Neil Diamond’s 50th Anniversary World Tour is about celebrating an impressive body of work that has remained more timeless than his critics would have ever imagined. The tour is a victory lap of sharing beloved hits and affirming a rarefied relationship between artist and audience. And the road trip is an opportunity for reclamation by a Brill Building songwriter turned superstar entertainer.
From “Solitary Man,” which Diamond prefaced, “My first chart record in 1966,” to a rich three-song suite of intricately orchestrated music from his 1973 “Jonathan Livingston Seagull” soundtrack, Diamond reviewed his entire career with musical finesse in a near 30-song set that still managed to leave out someone’s favorite hits.
“Sweet Caroline” was here Wednesday night at a near sold-out BB&T Center in Sunrise. Of course, the song featured an extended sing-a-long chorus that he brought back three times till he told his flock, “You’re gonna have to sing it yourself” (as if they needed the prompting). Appearing, too, was the set opening “Cherry, Cherry,” and four songs from “Beautiful Noise,” plus four “Hot August Night” highlights including “Crunchy Granola Suite,” “Done Too Soon,” “Holly Holy” and “I Am…I Said,” and dawn of the ’80s balladry in “September Morn.”
But “Shilo,” “Song Sung Blue,” “Walk on Water,” “Longfellow Serenade” and “Hello Again” were not on his setlist. How could they be? Diamond may insert an exclamation into the lyrics of “Cracklin’ Rosie” that “We’ve got all night!” but his fans have buses to board in the parking lot for the long rides home.
Diamond’s tour stop was vindication for a musician and singer-songwriter who is an entertainer but never at the expense of his musical craft. He is 76, but his rugged, Marlboro Man voice proved remarkably intact and almost a replica of its tone on records that date back 20, 30 years or more.
Sure, he speak-sings “Love on the Rocks” a bit and the tempos are a bit more gentle. His gait on stage is relaxed rather than “Hot August Night” spry. But his charisma is undimmed in his sixth decade in the arts. He’s near peerless the way he works an audience.
Diamond teased “Play Me,” his ballad from the sensitive Seventies, with a warning, “I’m about to become vulnerable.” Feelings, he said, that are “almost unheard of for a man.” A tender “Brooklyn Roads” gave the show its warm heart as Diamond’s early family movies played out on screen.
And the performance was about that aforementioned reclamation.
Diamond reclaimed his original 1977 solo version of “You Don’t Bring Me Flowers” after reminding his audience that he had once sung it with his “good friend,” fellow Brooklyn-ite Barbra Streisand. That single version, released at the tail end of 1978, became a No. 1 chart record.
For this 50th bash, Diamond announced he was doing the song with his “good friend,” sax player Larry Klimas, and Klimas’ instrumental accents where Streisand once sang added luster to the old tune. “Flowers” was beautiful.
Diamond’s excellent 13-piece band is captained by longtime drummer Ron Tutt (who previously played with Elvis Presley) and he gets lively support, especially on the African-homage “Soolaimon,” from veteran percussionist King Errisson. Guitarist Richard Bennett has been with Diamond for so long (he played on the landmark live set, “Hot August Night,’ in 1972) his son Nick Bennett now plays guitar at his side.
Diamond quickly followed his adult contemporary ballad, “Flowers,” with a spirited romp through his rock and roll composition, “I’m a Believer,” a song he recorded a few times with different arrangements over the years. But it was The Monkees who made “I’m a Believer” a No. 1 single for seven weeks starting in December 1966. The Monkees’ bouncy rendition become the biggest-selling record of 1967, in a year of mega hits by The Beatles (“All You Need Is Love” and “Penny Lane”), The Doors (“Light My Fire”) and Lulu (“To Sir With Love”).
Diamond, with Flower Power ’60s imagery on a diamond-shaped screen behind and above him center stage, reclaimed and reanimated “I’m a Believer,” making it every bit the youthful, infectious bauble The Monkees managed 50 years ago.
Diamond even took the pulpit from the preachers to close his two-hour show with messages of patriotism and inclusion. First, with “America” from his 1980 starring vehicle, “The Jazz Singer,” he reminded his audience of what this country stands for — Lady Liberty in the New York harbor, welcoming immigrants like his parents, descendants of Russian and Polish immigrants. Next, he closed with revival tent zest on “Brother Love’s Travelling Salvation Show” with the plea, “Black and white, rich and poor, gay and straight, great and small, we are God’s children all.”
Somewhere, Cantor Rabinovich (er, the late Laurence Olivier) is smiling down on his “Jazz Singer” cinematic son.
Neil Diamond Sunrise set list
a. “In My Lifetime” (band intro/backing vocalists and walk on music)
1. “Cherry Cherry”
2. “You Got to Me”
3. “Solitary Man”
4. “September Morn”
5. “Love on the Rocks”
6. “Play Me”
7. “Beautiful Noise”
9. “If You Know What I Mean”
10. “Dry Your Eyes”
11. “Forever in Blue Jeans”
12. “You Don’t Bring Me Flowers” (Solo version)
13. “I’m a Believer”
14. “Brooklyn Roads”
15. “Pretty Amazing Grace”
16.-18. “Jonathan Livingston Seagull” Suite: “Be,” “Lonely Looking Sky” and “Skybird”
19. “Jazz Time” (Band introductions)
21.-24. “Hot August Night” Segment: “Crunchy Granola Suite,” “Done Too Soon,” “Holly Holy” and “I Am...I Said”
25. “Sweet Caroline” (With three chorus restarts, audience participation)
26. “Cracklin’ Rosie”
28. “Brother Love’s Traveling Salvation Show”