‘This Is Big Time,’ Neil Diamond Tells a Sold-Out Crowd at Hollywood Bowl

If you grew up on the East Coast in the 1970s there’s a pretty solid chance you heard the soft crackle and hiss of a Neil Diamond album playing on a turntable in your parents’ living room, songs off of “Touching You, Touching Me” and “Hot August Night” providing the pop-rock soundtrack to neighborhood social mixers where martinis, Virginia Slims and avocado green shag carpeting flourished in abundance.

Tuesday night’s sold-out Neil Diamond concert at the Hollywood Bowl was a harkening back to those golden days of music listening, with a crowd made up mostly of silver-haired vinyl enthusiasts nostalgic for the past — special shout-out to the shlubby dude in the “Neil F**kin’ Diamond” T-shirt who flaunted his fandom in the most wantonly unapologetic way possible — their slightly younger counterparts (fortysomethings in yarmulkes and carpool moms with graying roots) and, naturally, because this is L.A., after all, Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie and their tween son, Pax, who, in all likelihood, was the youngest ticket-holder in the historic 18,000-seat amphitheater.

Diamond — or just plain “Neil” as he’s known to ardent fans; one-third of the Barbra (Streisand)-Barry (Manilow)-Neil triumvirate — knows what his fans want, and he gives it to them, joyfully and appreciably and with just the right light touch of dry, self-deprecation to underscore the fact that, at 74 years old, he’s not quite the sex symbol he once was (“Women screaming my name … makes me feel like I’m 70 again,” he joked), but if he’s old then we’re old, and we’re all still rocking out. So there. The stage, affixed with Diamond’s name in neon red lettering and a diamond-shaped hologram that changed color according to each tune, felt like an appropriate Las Vegas-esque homage to Diamond’s cheeky legacy as the “Jewish Elvis.”

Dressed in his signature cowboy-style shirt and black blazer, Diamond opened the show with a peppy karaoke-ready iteration of “I’m a Believer,” the 1966 No. 1 hit he penned for the Monkees, before launching into a string of popular crowd-pleasers ranging from baritone ballads “Love on the Rocks” and “Hello Again” (off “The Jazz Singer”) to “Kentucky Women” and “Girl, You’ll be a Women Soon,” which first appeared on Diamond’s 1976 album, “Just for You” and experienced a second coming when it was covered by alternative punk band Urge Overkill in Quentin Tarantino’s 1994 Oscar-winning crime drama “Pulp Fiction.” At one point in the song, Diamond knelt down on the stage and slow-danced with a swooning female fan in the front row.

‘Thank you, darling, what a pleasure it was to sing to you. We’ll have to do it again sometime,” he teased. “We’re here on Saturday I think.” And then, struggling to stand: “If I can get up.”

Everybody laughed — not at Neil, but with him — his iconic words and music a unifying force.

Diamond did sing one track off his latest album, “Melody Road,” but kept mostly to audience favorites —“Cherry, Cherry,” “Forever in Blue Jeans,” “I am … I said.” And while there were moments where some of the verses sounded more spoken word than sung (“Red, Red Wine” possessed something of a cruise-ship-talent-show quality, more akin to the UB40 cover than Diamond’s original), for the most part, Diamond’s voice has maintained its rich, gravely luster over the years, far better than most crooners his age, and his voice only opened up as the night wore on. By the time he got to “Play Me,” a romantic tune that typically elicits girlish screams out of grown women, if you closed your eyes and swayed back and forth with a Bic lighter in hand — which one or two in the crowd did — you could swear you were back in 1972.

Diamond’s backup band-cum-orchestra deserves special credit for its spirited, up-tempo instrumentals throughout the performance, from King Errisson on percussion to Ron Tutt on drums and sister singers Maxine and Julia Walters, who brought the house down with their soulful vocals and groovy, hip-hop-inspired dance moves.

There were tender moments in the night as well, namely Diamond’s introduction to the autobiographical ballad “Brooklyn Roads,” which recalls Diamond’s youth in New York, the son of working-class eastern European Jewish immigrants. “If I close my eyes, I can almost hear my mother, callin’, ‘Neil go find your brother,’ ” Diamond sang, as home movies shot on his father’s keystone camera played onscreen — footage of Diamond rolling in the snow with his younger brother Harvey, clips of shooting hoops after school.

“I was in love with music from the beginning and here I am at the Hollywood Bowl,” said Diamond wistfully. “This is big time.”

Diamond’s rousing encore consisted of his most beloved chart-topping tunes: “Cracklin’ Rosie,” which brought the crowd to its feet and kept it there; “Sweet Caroline,” which is generally a favorite of anyone who’s from Boston, roots for the Red Sox or has a special affinity for anything Kennedy-related (the catchy love song was inspired by a photograph of Caroline Kennedy Schlossberg as a young girl); and the powerful patriotic anthem “Coming to America,” which, accompanied by shots of the American flag and a grainy montage of wide-eyed immigrants landing at Ellis Island, was perhaps the most emotional moment of the entire night and, no doubt, one of the most ‘Jew-ish” songs in the history of rock ‘n’ roll. Squint, and you could see your parents or grandparents somewhere in that footage on one of those boats. Diamond closed the show with “Heartlight,” a tearjerker inspired by the now-classic film “E.T.” which is also, at its core, the story of someone who comes from another planet and discovers a home in America.

Neil Diamond will play a second show May 23 at the Hollywood Bowl.

Popular on Variety

More Music

  • Review: Taylor Swift Finds Giddiness, Amid

    Album Review: Taylor Swift's 'Lover'

    Sitting in a hot tub on “Saturday Night Live,” Will Ferrell and Rachel Dratch stole the sobriquet “love-ah” from the lexicon of acceptable terms of endearment — and, by golly, Taylor Swift is reaching into that oily water and stealing it back. The word doesn’t sound unctuous on her lips as she repeats it in [...]

  • Travis Scott Surprises Fans With Netflix

    Travis Scott Surprises Fans With Netflix Documentary Reveal, Pop-Up in Houston

    Travis Scott just revealed his new Netflix documentary in the most organic way possible: a social media post to his 18.5 million followers on Instagram. The photo consisted of him holding a series of VHS tapes, which turns out to be the trailer for his forthcoming documentary on Netflix titled “Look Mom I Can Fly.” [...]

  • Beverly Hills Realtor Accused of Stealing

    Beverly Hills Realtor Accused of Stealing From Usher, Adam Lambert

    A Beverly Hills real estate agent has been arrested on charges of stealing from the homes of celebrities, including Usher, Adam Lambert and “Real Housewives” star Dorit Kemsley. Jason Emil Yaselli, 32, is accused of encouraging an accomplice, Benjamin Ackerman, to enter homes during open houses in order to steal from them. Ackerman allegedly sold [...]

  • Taylor Swift Debuts 'Lover' Video, Sings

    Taylor Swift Debuts 'Lover' Video, Sings 'Archer' During YouTube Livestream (Watch)

    Taylor Swift went live on YouTube today to talk about the inspiration behind her new album “Lover,” dropping tonight. Those who tuned into the live event on Swift’s YouTube channel were virtual attendees of the “Lover’s Lounge,” which included an acoustic performance of her already released single “The Archer,” a Q&A sesh and a behind-the-scenes [...]

  • Missy-Elliot VMA

    Missy Elliott to Drop New EP, ‘Iconology,’ Tonight

    It’s been nearly 15 years since Missy Elliott dropped her last album, and in that time she’s released a handful of songs, made some guest features, played some lconcerts, appeared alongside Katy Perry at the 2015 Super Bowl and this year she’s been voted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame and on Monday night she’ll [...]

  • John Janick Interscope Geffen

    And the New Interscope Records Publicity Chief Is...

    Variety has confirmed one of the worst kept secrets in the music business: Cara Donatto is joining Interscope Geffen A&M (IGA) as its new head of publicity. She arrives at the Universal Music Group label from Atlantic Records, where she has spent nearly two decades of her career guiding public relations strategy for such artists [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content