In recent times, quite a few superstar artists have been lambasted for mounting live shows that all but ignore the hits that won over a mass audience in the first place — a charge that could never be levied against Neil Diamond. At this homecoming stand, the Brooklyn-bred singer evinced his devotion to the adage that an artist should give the people what they want — namely, plenty of hits and plenty of glitz.
Logically enough, Diamond led off the 2½ hour show, performed sans intermission, with a strident-but-stirring version of “America,” accentuated by an outsized flag backdrop and a swelling arrangement that made the song seem less like a call to arms than a call to mend hearts.
Later in the show, he’d return — somewhat less successfully — to the topic of healing by dedicating “He Ain’t Heavy, He’s My Brother” to the victims of the World Trade Center attacks.
Certainly no stranger to sap, Diamond didn’t pile it on too heavily on this evening. In fact, his forays into the more rock-oriented material in his catalog — “Shiloh” and “Cherry, Cherry” in particular — peeled back the years with restorative elan. In recent years, Diamond has occasionally been prone to offering perfunctory run-throughs of some oldies, but here, he and his 17-piece band invigorated songs like “Red Red Wine” and “Brother Love’s Traveling Salvation Show” with swinging new accouterments.
Diamond peppered the show with songs from his new Columbia album, “Three Chord Opera,” and while some, like the overblown “At the Movies,” failed to measure up, others, like the introspective “I Haven’t Played This Song in Years” hinted that he’s rounding into peak form after a creative fallow period.
While his baritone still retains the rough-edged appeal of the halcyon days, Diamond has lost a good bit of his dynamic grasp–replacing the swaying breeziness of “Sweet Caroline” with roaring bombast (likewise a hindrance in “I Am, I Said”). But, to diehards — and the Garden crowd was long on that element — too much is never enough when it comes to Diamond in the flesh.
Neil Diamond will play the Great Western Forum in Los Angeles Dec. 19, 21 and 22.