At the Air Canada Centre
in Toronto on Tuesday
There are two types of people in this world: those in favour (even if just a tiny bit) of Neil Diamond and those who are miserable. The big-songed Brooklynite has spent a career wooing critical naysayers, while tending to his huge flock of admirers. It was the latter faction that Diamond, spryly fit at the age of 67, endearingly pandered to during the first of his two appearances at Air Canada Centre.
"Just sit back, relax," the superstar record-seller said, "we'll do the work." Which is what happened, not that the songs of Diamond - the opening anthemic spiritual Holly Holy or the sparse acoustic moments of new material - are any chore. An 11-piece band (with four horns) played professionally, and with little bottom end to offend the eardrums of an audience that came not to be rocked, but to be serenaded, schmaltzy-like, by a Borscht Belt balladeer. (On Sweet Caroline, though, the crowd became choir - "good times never felt so good.")
Synthesized strings, crisp acoustic guitars and vocals (from Diamond and his three sassy background dames) were bell-clear, which spotlighted the songs, but failed to fill the arena fully. Oomph was not felt, I mean to say.
Close-up images of the cat on a pair of big screens revealed Diamond as a lost brother of Sam Donaldson; at times, his gruff, short vocal lines recalled Martin Short's Irving Cohen character ("Give me a C, a bouncy C.") This man Diamond had a variety of postures at work: the darkly emoting brooder (with a hand in his pocket for Love on the Rocks); the purple-shirted philosopher (after the overwrought I Am ... I Said, he glared like a Vegas magician); the upbeat guitar-strummer ( Kentucky Woman); the shameless romantic (an over-the-top duet of You Don't Bring Me Flowers began with Diamond sitting alone at a café table with a bottle of red wine); or an isolated singer-songwriter (for the three tunes of the chart-topping new album Home Before Dark, produced by Rick Rubin, Diamond positioned himself at far stage right).
His most unlikely character was of a rousing church-house bawler. Man of God, from 2005's 12 Songs (a comeback album, also produced by Rubin), was lounge-act gospel, and the night-capping Brother Love's Traveling Salvation Show was go-go Pentecostal. It was almost superfluous, though, for Diamond, onstage, was preaching to the converted.
Levi Strauss & Co. and about 17,000 fans swayed to the joyous revelry of Diamond's timeless ode to blue jeans, and the sing-songy Sweet Caroline had hands touching hands in a big way.
No Song Sung Blue, and no sideburns. The stage arrangement, using simple moving risers, was wide open, but austere and outdated.
So old, they brought oil lanterns instead of Bic lighters for the ballads. So old, the crew used the Clapper device to control the lighting system. So old, they truly cherish life's uncomplicated pleasures, of which Diamond is one.
"Shall we dance?" was how the 67-year-old Diamond introduced the excitable three-chorder Cherry Cherry, and then, "That was yesterday, and this is now," was the set-up for three fresh numbers from the singer's new Home Before Dark album.
So good! So good! So good!