Review: Neil Diamond

(Above: Neil Diamond delivers the excellent “Pretty Amazing Grace.”)

By Joel Francis
The Kansas City Star

For nearly two hours on Monday night, Neil Diamond and his beautiful noise turned an arctic December evening to a hot August night.

After opening with high-energy performances of “Holly Holy” and “Beautiful Noise,” Diamond slowed down for “Love on the Rocks.” Strolling the perimeter of the stage, the applause swelled every time Diamond approached a new seating section. Although the Sprint Center wasn’t full – the end sections were curtained off up top – Diamond worked the crowd like he was playing a massive living room.

Diamond revisited the first side of his classic live album “Hot August Nights” with the one-two of “Crunchy Granola Suite” and “Done Too Soon.” He followed that up with a different, but equally moving pairing. Prefacing the autobiographical “Brooklyn Roads” with a story about growing up in the borough, Diamond performed the song as childhood photos floated by on the screens above the stage. It was followed by another song about New York, “I Am… I Said.”

The old songs were the highlights, but the new songs got the best performances. “Home Before Dark,” found Diamond seated on a stool at stage left, fingerpicking an acoustic guitar. “Pretty Amazing Grace” started with a stripped-down arrangement that worked its way into a calypso groove. It was on these numbers and the main-set closers of “Man of God” and “Hell Yeah” that Diamond’s singing was at its most heartfelt and expressive.

Forgoing special effects, Diamond’s stage was decorated with his 13-piece band on a series of six risers that slid back and forth across the stage. As expected for such a large ensemble, the arrangements were epic and cinematic, recreating orchestras for “Play Me” and Cinemascope arrangements for “Crunchy Granola Suite.” The only time the band failed him was on a slowed-down reading of “Solitary Man.” Diamond’s new tempo made the song even lonelier, but the intrusion of the backup singers on the chorus broke the spell every time.

Despite working a notoriously audiophobic room with so many instruments, the sound was great. The mix was so precise individual instruments could be singled out without harming the overall sound.

The houselights came on for “Forever in Blue Jeans” and they stayed up for “Sweet Caroline.” That one had everyone on their feet and singing along like it was Fenway Park. Diamond was so pleased he gave the number a victory lap. Even though he has performed the song a million times and even though he had just performed it, Diamond sang with conviction, drawing out the last night as if he didn’t want it to end.

The night ended with the sure-fire crowd pleasers of “Cracklin’ Rosie,” “America” and Brother Love’s Traveling Salvation Show” that had everyone on their feet, singing along.

Setlist: Holly Holy/Beautiful Noise/Love on the Rocks/Play Me/Cherry Cherry/Home Before Dark/Don’t Go There/Pretty Amazing Grace/Crunchy Granola Suite/Done Too Soon/Brooklyn Roads/I Am…I Said/Solitary Man/Forever in Blue Jeans/Sweet Caroline/Sweet Caroline (reprise)/You Don’t Bring Me Flowers/I’m a Believer/Man of God/Hell Yeah//encores: Cracklin’ Rosie/America/Brother Love’s Traveling Salvation Show