September 1, 2012
MGM Grand Garden Arena
Las Vegas, NV USA
Review by Wayne Posner
Photos by Wayne Posner
Last Night of the Jazz Singer's Tour
Yeah, okay, I'll admit it. I didn't grow up on Neil Diamond music. Hell, I wasn't even born when this guy was in his prime. But I will say one thing. Without a doubt, Neil Diamond, at age 71, is one of the greatest entertainers I have ever seen. I say entertainer instead of singer - though he possesses a truly signature voice instantly recognized - because this Brooklyn native really puts on a show, rather than stand there and go through the motions.
I don't give accolades lightly. I've shot more concerts over the years than most people attend in a lifetime, so I know a thing or two about music. I would have skipped this concert at the MGM Grand for this concert if I wasn't on assignment. In hindsight, I would have regretted it. In fact, I nearly missed the deadline to get my photo pass from Diamond's handler, arriving minutes before the show was about to begin. Once inside, however, the frenzied activity that surrounded my arrival melted away as I surveyed my surroundings.
There was an eerie calm inside the MGM Grand Arena. It was though this capacity crowd instinctively knew they were about to witness something spectacular this evening. After all, this was the last night of the Jazz Singer's two-month summer tour, so there was something special in the air tonight. I'll have to admit I too couldn't help but feel that something extraordinary was going to happen as I walked toward my assigned shooting location. Anticipation is a funny thing. You never know whether you're going to experience sensory overload or downright disappointment when you build up an event like this in your mind. Time would tell.
When the lights finally went down, the noise in the arena was deafening. Capturing this moment on film was just as exciting as the music itself. With the crowd singing in unison behind me - something they would be doing the entire night - young and old shouted, sang, clapped, cheered and expressed every possible emotion you could think of. Diamond responded with an infectious smile as he was poured his heart and soul out singing the lyrics. His impressive 12-piece orchestra didn't miss a beat. I put my camera down several times to make sure the electrifying performance I was seeing through my camera lens was actually taking place.
It's almost an understatement to call this artist a musical icon. The word legend is more appropriate. If you had asked me what I thought of Neil Diamond before this concert, I would have told you his music was for my grandparents generation, and maybe, just maybe, my mom and dad on a weird day. Good thing I never wrote those thoughts down on a piece of paper. I would have eaten every word. When you think of musicians crossing generations, your thoughts immediately turn to the Rolling Stones, Barbra Streisand, Eric Clapton, Paul McCartney or even Elton John. Performers like Neil Diamond are in a class by themselves because they are able to humanize the music they're singing. When Diamond spoke about his grandmother, and followed with a song, that moment came from the heart. There's no interpretation of other songwriters songs here (well there was one, "Star Flight").
Tonight's two and a half hour show contained nothing but Neil Diamond originals and delivered with a magical voice that wowed the audience from beginning to end.
With a career spanning more than 50 years and record sales of over 125 million worldwide, Neil Diamond should be enjoying his retirement. His royalties alone from monster songs he penned and sang like "I Am I Said", "Cracklin' Rosie", "Forever in Blue Jeans" and "Hello Again" easily keeps Neil drinking any vintage 'red, red wine' he so desires. But instead of retiring those still golden voice pipes, Diamond is enjoying a re-surging popularity. A new generation of fans, and I'm including myself here, who weren't born when he was dominating the airwaves, are literally springing to life. Thanks to YouTube and other social media platforms, Diamond's music has been rediscovered, and once again treasured. All you had to do was listen to the thousands of background singers in the audience, accompanying Neil on every song, to know the singer had come full circle once again.
Yes, tonight the young definitely complimented the old, and vice versa. Both groups cheered the introductions to the timeless middle-of-the-road classics that dominated the set list. Couples held hands and kissed when beautiful love songs like "Love On The Rocks" and the hauntingly beautiful "You Don't Bring Me Flowers ", performed with backup vocalist Linda Press, were introduced. Perhaps the most enjoyable moment of the evening came when Diamond began singing "I'm a Believer", his breakout song for the television bubblegum band, The Monkees. Watching the senior citizens in the crowd act like teenagers again was quite enjoyable. The first half of this show contained hits that ruled the airwaves from the mid to late '60s into the early '70s. Those included "Solitary Man, "Cherry Cherry", "Holly Holy", "Soolaiman" and "Shilo". Then again, the entire evening was filled with masterpieces and a few unexpected surprises, like him leaning down on the stage to greet an older female fan who had unexpectedly walked up to greet him. She extended her hand, Neil held it, sang "You'll Be a Woman Soon", and ended their close encounter with a kiss.
They don't make artists like Neil Diamond anymore, and that's a shame. Artists like Michael Buble and Josh Grogan are famous because they re-imagine and reinvent songs instead of create them. This 'long fellow's serenade' however, rides on no one's coat tails. That was more than evident at this show. I don't know how much gas Diamond has left in the tank, but if you ever get the opportunity to catch this performer in concert, go! It doesn't matter how old you are either. I guarantee you'll grow up by the end of the show. I know I did. I've got a glowing diamond ring to prove it!