- The Washington Times - Sunday, June 11, 2017


His voice remains smooth like silk, and as flawlessly on-pitch as he was a half-century ago when the world of rock was yet young.

Neil Diamond, now 76, brought his hits, his verve and his unconquerable joy to Baltimore’s Royal Farms Arena Friday night, where the New Yorker took the thousands gathered — from the fans who fell into Mr. Diamond’s bracket of contemporaries to those barely young enough to recall what an LP was — on a travelogue of his hits in honor of Mr. Diamond’s 50 years in showbiz.

A literal large diamond spun on the stage behind Mr. Diamond’s backup band — 13 of them in all — showing pictures and video of the star from as long ago as the 1940s to not long before the current 50 Year Anniversary Tour began. Mr. Diamond then strolled to center stage with his guitar, his beard and hair a thankfully not-dyed shade of gray, and the artist dressed in a simple black jacket and trousers ensemble.

Mr. Diamond et al. then launched into “In My Lifetime” and “Cherry, Cherry” to kick off the concert. The synchronicity between star and band was evident from the start, showcasing a professionalism that only becane more certain as the evening progressed.

Mr. Diamond effortlessly assayed seminal classics “Solitary Man,” “Love on the Rocks” and “Play Me,” pausing only slightly in between each song to interface with the audience, and continually thanking them for their support.

The singer dedicated “Dry Your Eyes” to the victims of the recent attacks on Manchester and London by Islamic extremists, an honorable tribute to both the power of art in the face of terror and to the need to continue on, no matter the circumstances.

Mr. Diamond took time out to honor his longtime guitarist, Richard Bennett, and related how Mr. Bennett approached him in the ‘70s, desperate to play him a guitar riff. In Mr. Diamond’s telling, he was reluctant to be pitched yet another song, but Mr. Bennett’s riff impressed him so much that the two immediately sat down and wrote out “Forever in Blue Jeans,” which the two musicians then began — soon enough joined in by the entire ensemble.

A cover of The Monkees’ “I’m a Believer” wasn’t far behind, along with “Red Red Wine” and “Brooklyn Roads,” a sentimental song detailing Mr. Diamond’s young life growing up in Brooklyn, New York. Vintage video shot by his father played behind the familiar verses about “two floors above the butcher.” The transcendent, utterly humanistic nature of this pairing of Mr. Diamond’s composition with the footage of his younger days shows just how much his story is not the story of a New Yorker or a Jewish-American, but of an American, period. Mr. Diamond’s success is the fulfillment of the promise that his grandparents sought when they immigrated from Eastern Europe, and he paid tribute to those ancestors who worked so hard so that he might enjoy the career he has had.

Thankfully, he also veered off the well-trod path of hits and trotted out “Pretty Amazing Grace,” the soulful and uptempo composition from his 2008 album, “Home Before Dark,” which was almost entirely an acoustic affair, and one of Mr. Diamond’s more singular efforts in his latter career.

While it is de rigueur for a star of Mr. Diamond’s caliber to introduce and praise his backup musicians, he took it to another level Friday, asking each of his 13 players in turn to perform a riff, be it on guitar, voice or accordion. Mr. Bennett and his son are both in the band, and father and son traded blues chords as part of their showoff routine before Mr. Diamond gave brass, percussion and keys each a chance to take center stage — if for a fleeting moment or two.

Getting back to business, the band then careened headlong with their leader into “Be,” “Crunchy Granola Suite” and “Holly Holy.” Mr. Diamond bid the crowd goodnight to the strains of “I Am I Said,” but the raucousness of the gathered assured his return.

Only one song could begin the curtain call, with Mr. Diamond entreating one and all to join him on “Sweet Caroline,” and he even allowed the audience an extra round or two of the chorus. Such would have been a fitting end, but the singer was not done, and then continued with “Cracklin Rosie” and “America,” the latter of which was played while more vintage footage of Europeans and Asians entering the U.S. played behind Mr. Diamond and his ensemble. (One can’t help but wonder if perhaps the footage should be updated to also include Middle Easterners, Indians and other more recent immigrants.)

While Mr. Diamond, due to his age, has understandably lost some of the on-stage swagger that defined his younger days, there can be no question that a half-century of performing has dulled neither his talents nor his spirits. Even though much of the set list on Friday entailed songs he has performed hundreds, if not thousands, of times over his storied career, Mr. Diamond never lacked for enthusiasm or verve in his Baltimore appearance Friday.

The tour will continue on. And, I suspect, another will follow. Mr. Diamond is not one to rest on his well-earned laurels, no matter how deserving or lengthy. His professionalism and his continued desire — or need — to tour shows that he is, far and away, one of our most treasured national artists.

• Eric Althoff can be reached at twt@washingtontimes.com.

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