Neil Diamond in Concert, Sandalford Winery

I’ve long puzzled over where Neil Diamond fits in the musical scheme of things – he’s usually ignored regardless of his past superstar status, in much the same way as the Seekers often don’t rate a mention, yet Diamond’s been a major contributor to music over the past fifty years. His big emotional ballads are superbly crafted and his lyrics, while perhaps not in the same class as Cohen or Dylan, are right up there with Paul Simon and Bruce Springsteen.

And in recent times, he’s brought out some peeled back, reflective albums, evidence of an older man at peace with his past, whilst not forgetting the good times, the loves, the mistakes and the memories. In short, his song writing skills are still there. Having seen him in concert twice before (circa 1972 and 1994), I knew his stage performances were superb affairs and when my wife Ann, who’d never seen him perform live, suggested we go and see his Sandalford Winery outdoor concert, the thought that he might perform his more recent works, intrigued me enough to once again go see the Brooklyn Kid.

Sandalford Winery in the Swan Valley on the outskirts of Perth, is an excellent venue, offering Perth people a huge advantage over Margaret River’s Leeuwin Estate, in that there aren’t the associated travel and accommodation costs that easily add another $1,000.00 or so to the cost of the concert, however I do think they’re gouging on the price of wine at concert events. Sure, it’s reasonable not to allow people to bring in their own wine, but really, charging $25.00 and $35.00 a bottle leaves a bad taste, the tannins become bitter. By all means have more expensive wines available, but be fair and offer quaffable wine at $15.00 a bottle, the PR factor alone would benefit the winery. But on to the concert.

The sound system was a big let-down for the night, it was second rate, lacking guts, clarity and punch. Anybody who attended the 2009 Leonard Cohen concert at Sandalford knows what it’s like to hear a gold star sound system and Lenny ain’t AC/DC. There was nothing wrong with the backing band, which included the legendary Ronnie Tutt, Elvis Presley’s drummer, although the dubbed strings were disconcertingly Karaoke, but the sound quality was muzak-like, no guts.

Neil Diamond can still sing, yes there were a couple of moments when age did weary the vocal chords, but he certainly didn’t need the backing singers to cover for him and the hits rolled out one after the other. With a gold studded back catalogue like this guy’s got, it was never going to be a problem filling a two hour, non-interval show.

Don’t get me wrong, we both really enjoyed the show, but Diamond does not connect with his audience, the embracing outstretched arms, the “I love you all” lines are probably utterly genuine, but they do come across as cheesy American. Sure there’s warmth in the lyrics, but there is no real warmth from the performer. This is a well-rehearsed routine, slick, smooth and choreographed to within an inch of perfection, wonderfully nostalgic, but weirdly, it was almost like watching a Neil Diamond tribute show, fun, but not the real thing.

It’s a mystery, he seems an utterly down to earth person, the accompanying concert programme attests to it, as do those latest albums, but it’s not what you get on stage and he only really did one song from the latest album, telling us that song took him five years to write, although I’m not sure why after reading the lyrics on the screen behind him. It was almost as if he was afraid to go there (to his new stuff). Yes, the hits were wonderful, but of magic, there was none, there was simply no connection, just a very polished Vegas cheese.

If I was his manager, I’d tell him the feeling really should be laid back – sit down, tell us about that lyric, talk for a minute about life. At the moment, going to a Neil Diamond concert is like watching a sort of Richard Clayderman / Barry Manilow combination, more Cubic Zirconian than Diamond, not only do we the audience deserve better, so does Neil Diamond.

Greg Ross

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