On July 11th 2015 I eagerly travelled to Birmingham for a Neil Diamond concert in the Genting Arena. Formerly called the LG Arena the venue has a surprisingly spacious feel to it with a hint of intimacy as well. I had a “cheap seat” but with a great view, being situated at the opposite end of the arena directly in line with the stage, not too high up and midpoint between the video screens. The stage was simply set with the silhouette of a huge diamond back drop from which Neil emerged to huge applause at 8.15pm. For the next 2 hours and ten minutes the crowd were entertained by a set that spanned virtually fifty years of song writing. As always Neil Diamond highlighted what a consummate performer he is and it was a huge privilege as always to hear his distinct dulcet tones sounding as strong and emotive as ever.
Beginning with the cheery I’m A Believer Neil moved effortlessly into the more heart rending Love on the Rocks and Hello Again. Pretty Amazing Grace followed which I’ve always thought is a stunning piece of work with the feel of a ball-room dance tune woven within it. Then came the full repertoire of Diamond’s songs full of storytelling about growing up, falling and feeling love, loneliness and heartache. Lyrics that are poetic yet easily understood with rhythms that pulsate with emotions of joy, sorrow, fun and empathy. The poet revels himself in Play Me “you are the sun, I am the moon, you are the words, I am the tune, play me”. When Neil sang back to back Shilo and Brooklyn Roads he recalled the story of his upbringing and having an imaginary friend called Shilo. This was a wonderful way for the couple to my left side and the lady to my right side to be introduced to Neil, as none of them had ever seen him perform before. That intimate simple story-telling immediately gave the audience a better affinity with Neil and in this concert the feeling was elevated further. The backdrop diamond suddenly became a movie screen as images of Neil growing up flickered from home movies his father had made. I marvelled at the technology we now have that probably made possible the digitisation of those irreplaceable fragile movie reels.
Three songs from the latest album Melody Road were performed around the mid-point of the show. It was fascinating to hear how The Art of Love took Neil over five years to write the 150 words that took only three minutes to sing. I got the distinct feeling that the album was the fruition of songs that Diamond had been trying to express for some time, but hadn’t been in the right frame of mind to put down before. This album has a different feel to me as it seems to find Neil in a more melancholic, introspective mood, yet there remains an identifiable “Diamondesque” element within several songs. (OOO) Do I Wanna Be Yours makes me think of an epic Greek poem with a languid yet gorgeous harmonic melody, and to hear it live on a warm summer’s evening was wonderful, the song just washed over you. Later there was a reference to the legendary “Hot August Night” concerts of the 1970s when the rousing tribal Soolaimon and the pseudo religious Holly Holy rocked the auditorium. I Am…I Said concluded the main part of the show and Neil returned a couple of minutes later to thunderous applause for his encore. By this point I think just about everyone was on their feet to bop to Cracklin’Rosie and Sweet Caroline. Brother Love kept the groove going whilst Heartlight quietened the mood before the life-affirming sound of hope that is America. The British and American flags appeared on the video screens and an eagle soared above the stage thanks to the diamond back drop screen capabilities. A wonderful (though some might say corny) image to finish a vintage show, and as Neil departed the stage I couldn’t help wonder if this would be his swan song concert tour. I hope not, but what an incredible legacy of music he has shared with his fans.
Song List of 29 (not in strict order): Main Show– I’m A Believer; Love On The Rocks; Hello Again; Pretty Amazing Grace; Girl, You’ll Be a Woman Soon; The Best Part of Me; Kentucky Woman; You Got To Me; Beautiful Noise; Play Me; If You Know What I Mean; Red, Red Wine; Solitary Man; Brooklyn Roads; Shilo; Nothing But A Heartache; (OOO) Do I Wanna Be Yours; The Art of Love; Song Sung Blue; Forever In Blue Jeans; Cherry, Cherry; Soolaimon; Holly Holy; I Am… I Said. Encore-Cracklin’ Rosie; Sweet Caroline; Brother Love’s Travelling Salvation Show; Heartlight; America.