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Concert Review: Neil Diamond Sparkles for 50th Anniversary Stop at the Forum

For most of his fans, the Neil Diamond concert experience is one largely wrapped up in nostalgia, in memories of “Cherry, Cherry” playing on a turntable in a shag-carpeted living room in the early-1970s, and “The Jazz Singer” soundtrack in steady rotation during sweltering summer days when Ronald Reagan was President. Diamond fills entire concert venues with baby boomer vinyl enthusiasts clinging to their youth (and hairlines) and breathless, gushing, seventy-something women who still swoon at the sex symbol before them.

At 76, Diamond, too, is nostalgic for the past, known for punctuating set lists with grainy home movies of his childhood in Brooklyn and sepia-tinted footage from various periods in his iconic, Grammy-decorated, 50-year career. It’s a recipe that works: the Rolaids generation and rock and roll.

Diamond’s sold-out show Saturday night at the Forum, where the singer wrapped up the American leg of his 50 Year Anniversary World Tour, stuck to this tried-and-true formula, mining a catalogue of over 30 studio albums and trotting out a bounty of peppy and soulful soft rock anthems, from “I Am… I Said” and “Solitary Man,” to “Forever in Blue Jeans” and “Love on the Rocks.”

“My job is the greatest job in the world,” Diamond told the crowd, dressed in one of his signature, cowboy-inspired black shirts with sparkles. “I sing. You hear. You applaud. I sing louder. I go wherever the noise is.”

It was Diamond’s record-breaking 35th performance at the famed Inglewood arena, which underwent a historic renovation in 2014 after years of underuse— and his voice sounds as smooth and rich as it did when he cut his 1966 debut LP, “The Feel of Neil Diamond.”

Backed by a stellar 11-piece band and the wonderfully vibrant, Gospel-influenced back-up singers Julia and Maxine Waters, Diamond delivered each and every hit, including a solo rendition of “You Don’t Bring Me Flowers,” his chart-topping 1978 two-hander with Barbra Streisand, with his incongruous trademark blend of bravado, broodiness, and an appreciable touch of lush, melodramatic schmaltz.

On a night when there was a smattering of young children in the crowd with their parents, the family vibe even registered on stage, where longtime Diamond sideman Richard Bennett held court with his son Nick Bennett strumming right alongside him. While Diamond played guitar here and there throughout the evening, the Bennetts ably backed him.

The concert opens up to a tour of modern American history on a diamond-shaped video screen above the stage. As images of everything from JFK to the moon landing whiz by, it hits you: this man’s music is the soundtrack of Americana. On “Brooklyn Roads,” the black-and-white footage turned to Diamond himself, capturing him in his youth. It’s a striking reminder of how long he’s loomed in pop culture, vital as ever.

 

“This is my 218th show,” said Scott Neal, a super fan — aka “Diamond Head” — who flew in from Orlando, Fla. for the concert. “The production, the quality, the entertainment and, really, just the songs, it all comes out in the songs. I saw my first show in 1982 and it just got better every time.”

But as much as a Neil Diamond show recalls a longing for what was — the golden age of singer-songwriters, a simpler time in the world — there was a certain timeless quality to his hot August night performance, notably on folky, spiritual tracks like “Holly Holy,” released as an acoustic, guitar-heavy single in 1969, and “Pretty Amazing Grace,” off Diamond’s 2008 album “Home Before Dark.”

“Sweet Caroline,” a ditty that’s become synonymous with Boston baseball — it’s played at every Red Sox home game — and one that Diamond has performed live over 1,500 times, was a predictable audience favorite, as well as the infectiously catchy “Cracklin’ Rosie,” which prompted fans to dance in the aisles.

While Diamond himself may not get around as nimbly as he used to, he’s not above exerting himself for a little showmanship. At one point, he serenaded a female fan in the front row while he lay on his stomach at the front of the stage, playing the part of the ham and the hunk in equal measure.

There were also a few serious, if oddly-timed, moments during the show. On a day when terrifying violence in Virginia captivated the world, it was a curious choice for Diamond to dedicate “Dry Your Eyes,” which he famously performed with The Band in “The Last Waltz,” to the victims of the Manchester, England, concert terrorist attack. Well meaning, but not quite tapping the zeitgeist.

Diamond’s encore performance of “America,” his powerful patriotic tribute to United States immigration, also felt incongruently sanguine. It’s a song that normally stirs up enormous national pride, with accompanying visuals in the way of a giant American flag and archival clips of Ellis Island underscoring its intensity. But in Los Angeles, on the same day racism reared its ugly head on the opposite coast, it seemed out of step.

Then again, maybe that was the point and what Diamond was aiming to provide: hope in the face of adversity, a rousing and inspiring pop-rock ballad at a time when we probably need it most.

Concert Review: Neil Diamond Sparkles for 50th Anniversary Stop at the Forum

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