Neil Diamond 2001-2003 Concert Reviews / Photos

Albany, NY - September 21,  2002

Neil Diamond robust at Pepsi

From the TimesUnion
by Greg Haymes
Pop/Rock music review

ALBANY -- Melding the blue-collar populism of Bruce Springsteen with the extravagant Las Vegas showmanship of Wayne Newton is a difficult, if not impossible, task, but Neil Diamond walked that tightrope with surprising ease and grace at the Pepsi Arena Saturday night.

Backed by a 17-piece band and the undying support of a capacity crowd, the 61-year-old Diamond delivered his best Capital Region show in more than decade on Saturday. Dressed all in black with a shirt full of sequins sparkling in the spotlight, Diamond's show didn't break any new ground, but the fans heard the hits that they came for, and Diamond's robust baritone voice, which has been shaky at best in recent area shows, sounded as good as it's ever been.

His song selection was better than in past shows as well, making the most of the horns and string section. Diamond even accompanied himself on grand piano for a couple tunes.

He's still at his best when he plays the part of the brooding romantic, the Lord Byron of pop. And he nailed the angst and loneliness on tunes like the early "Solitary Man," the midcareer "Love On the Rocks" and "You Don't Bring Me Flowers" (a duet with backup singer Linda Press), as well as the brand-new "I Haven't Played This Song in Years."

While Diamond certainly knows how to milk the drama from songs like "Girl, You'll Be a Woman Soon," "Shilo" and his cover of the Hollies' "He Ain't Heavy, He's My Brother," he sometimes gave in to his Vegas tendencies, tipping the scales from drama to melodrama, especially on totally over-the-top "Soolaimon" and the final encore of "Brother Love's Traveling Salvation Show."

Opening with "America," Diamond pretty much guaranteed himself a standing ovation, especially with the array of American flags fluttering in and out of the stage set and the repeated lyric "Stand up for America."

One of his major missteps on Saturday was "Red, Red Wine," which he began as slow and dramatic as his original, only to slide into the uptempo, reggae rhythms of UB40's hit remake during the second half of the song. Diamond's songs, it seems, can survive contemporary updates, but he doesn't fare as well.

With an expanded band on this tour, the song list seemed to favor either the smooth sweep of the string quartet or the punchy punctuation of the four-piece horn section. They came together successfully only on a handful of songs, most notably "Solitary Man" and the encore of "Cracklin' Rosie."

He offered only a smattering of selections from his new album, "Three Chord Opera," the best being the ballad "I Haven't Played This Song in Years."

No, Diamond hasn't had a genuine hit single in years, but he still manages to sell out places like the Pepsi Arena, and he still makes the fans believe in him. There's something to be said for his sheer endurance and determination. Sometimes that's enough.

Neil poses with his fans September 22, 2002  in Albany, NY

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