To his critics – and there are a few – Diamond is stale, trite, as insipid as a scoop of vanilla ice cream or a slice of Wonder Bread. (Tina Hagerling, The Know)
Fifty years ago, when a brash and imposing man named Lyndon Johnson occupied the White House and the nation was mired in an endless spat with the Russians that many worried would chart the course of the century, a 26-year-old college dropout from Brooklyn started gaining recognition for songwriting. Fans do concede that Diamond hardly amounts to a visionary. And, like the red, red wine, age has done him favors, coloring his voice with a convincing rasp that lends his pleas to God, love and fans a sincerity his skeptics often miss. Some numbers, like a moving “Love on the Rocks,” carried an extra punch as the graying singer bellowed with the anguish of a man contemplating the end of a long life. His two-hour set featured the usual suspects – “Cherry Cherry,” “Forever in Blue Jeans,” “I’m A Believer,” “America,” and, yes, his signature ballpark-blaster “Sweet Caroline.” He supplemented the hits with a slate of lesser-known works plumbed from his unflagging 50-year career, in which he’s sold 75 million records and released 34 complete studio albums. That impulse for hope, for the unshakable feeling that he’s still touring at age 76 because he really just wouldn’t want to be anywhere else, harkens back to mid-twentieth-century Pax Americana at the same time it marches forward, “never looking back again.”
And though his name might mean as much to Millennials as Drake’s to Baby Boomers, Neil Diamond proved on Friday night the value of music that’s content with sticking to a script where “the story is the same one.”
Because in a chaotic world with an unfamiliar present, there’s something still vaguely comforting and alluring about a bridge between the distant past and foregone future, a troubadour still traveling the mighty land of freedom, forever in blue jeans. Neil Diamond performing at the Pepsi Center on July 21, 2017. But half a century later, Neil Diamond has pulled off a coup. He’s managed not just to endure, but to thrive. Related Articles
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But continuity is the balladeer’s chief virtue. His extensive catalogue never sought to revolutionize music or innovate the way his forward-thinking pop peers of the late 60s and early 70s had essayed. Now, amid his 50th Anniversary World Tour, Diamond can still pack arenas of fawning fans, such as on Friday night at the Pepsi Center, when Denver greeted the 76-year-old with an admiration due the elder statesman of pop. But fans know he’s better understood as a box of Franzia: warm, consistent, palatable and potent. He’s maintained a grip on national culture through a romantic belief in the American Dream, an old-school rosiness he proudly displayed via video montages on the Pepsi Center’s overhead screens, where old clips of his upbringing in immigrant-haven New York City brought many in the mostly older and whiter crowd to tears. The eminently likable, offensively-inoffensive singer-songwriter was in his element on stage, telling stories about his long life, talking candidly about his dreams of stardom and appearing thankful, evidently gracious, toward his band and the stadium of fans who’d paid a pretty penny to see him live.
Back then, no one listened to the hitmakers of fifty years earlier – Al Jolson, Charles Harrison, and the dozens of big bands that swung through the 1910s. Since his beginnings in mid-60s New York City, he’s zigzagged the country dozens of times, and his popularity has hardly budged. The videos got to the heart of what Neil Diamond has always meant to generations of devotees: an infectious love of life hard to disagree with, if easy to sneer at. Though the septuagenarian has slowed down a bit – he occasionally seemed ready to topple over as he trudged back and forth to squealing spectators on either side of the vast Pepsi Center stage – his voice hasn’t lost its luster.