Neil Diamond at Wells Fargo: A lot of noise, a lot of sweat, a lot of happy people

Neil Diamond in concert: The audience at Wells Fargo brought the nostalgia. ANDREAS TERLAAK
Neil Diamond in concert: The audience at Wells Fargo brought the nostalgia. ANDREAS TERLAAK
Posted: June 20, 2012

Neil Diamond was breathing hard. The air inside the Wells Fargo Center on Monday night was fairly temperate, but the 71-year-old performer was working up a sweat making sure that even those in restricted-view seats got an eyeful. "I bet they told you these were front-row seats," he said, turning his back on the arena to face the people seated on the extreme right, almost behind the stage. But then, he allowed, it wouldn't take much for him to come back front and center, or indeed, to turn his attentions anywhere. "Basically," he said, "I go where there is noise."

Noise there was, and plenty of it. Diamond has been on the road so long, visiting Philadelphia since "19-oh-forget-it," that working the crowd is second nature. And the crowd was ready to be worked, rising to their feet at his command and busting out the call-and-response refrain to "Sweet Caroline" as if they'd done so hundreds of times before — which, of course, they had. Although Diamond dove into a lengthy reminiscence about spending his first big royalty check on a warm coat — a story told on countless occasions — his greatest-hits tour wasn't overly concerned with nostalgia. The audience provided that, deriving as much from their own re-creation of past joys as from the live performance in front of them. (It's no wonder Diamond is a karaoke-bar favorite.)

The arrangements of Diamond's songs have expanded over the years, often becoming sprawling and unwieldy; the trouble with touring in front of a 14-piece band is that he evidently feels the compunction to use it on every song. The impassioned "Shiloh" benefited from the quasi-orchestral swell, but "I Am … I Said" was buried in bombast. Diamond's voice has hardened with age, and he often gave in to the temptation to over-sing, as if trying to reach the top tier without the aid of a microphone. No wonder he was sweating.

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