Neil Diamond in Concert
Frog-King Lands in Louisville

By Bill Ede

The recent Neil Diamond concert at Louisville's Freedom Hall was yet one more example of a seasoned professional giving it his all. Though the "in the round" approach, with the revolving stage and prominently showcased band members, seemed a bit of a distraction to me, there was nothing present sufficiently intrusive to keep this show from coming off. It simply had too much going for it, not the least of which was the no-nonsense, can-do attitude of its primary player. From the invitation-to-the-dance strut of Lovescape's "Mountains of Love" to the last lingering chorus of "Brother Love," this was pure, or near-pure, joy.

An "early hits" segment began with a faithful reading of "Solitary Man," Neil's first chart record as a recording artist. "Kentucky Woman" followed, and then "Cherry, Cherry," his first Top 10 record from 1966. I've always been confused by the shift of emphasis from one beat to another when comparing the hit version of "Cherry, Cherry" with subsequent live versions — not quite as hard to make sense of as the Yardbirds' "Little Games," perhaps, though potentially as frustrating.

The first real surprise of the evening came in the form of "Stones," a song that has never been a staple of Diamond's live shows. This point was made evident when the audience failed to acknowledge its familiarity with applause, as they had done with all songs before, and would do with most all songs thereafter. Hopefully, this will all change, as he continues to incorporate the song into future concerts.

A segment of "New York" songs followed that included "Hear Them Bells," Neil's first attempt at songwriting, and his tribute to Tin Pan Alley and its Brill Building heritage, "Beautiful Noise." A barely decipherable "Jungletime" and the lovely autobiographical "Brooklyn Roads" rounded out this segment of the show.

Diamond soon got the audience in on the act to help him sing a UB40 version of "Red Red Wine" and the hit he penned for the Monkees, "I'm a Believer." He would also ask them to join in later on "Forever In Blue Jeans" and "Song Sung Blue."

From "The Jazz Singer," Neil performed the three songs that had made it to the Top 10: "Hello Again," "Love on the Rocks" and "America," the latter to the unveiling of four American flags.

He would enlist the vocal help of band member Linda Press on "You Don't Bring Me Flowers," as he had done earlier in the set on "You've Lost That Loving Feeling," a song being considered for his fall-release album of early '60s pop songs. Though it's certainly a fine song, it would be far more interesting to hear him tackle some songs with less regular rotation on today's "oldies" stations. A better Righteous Brothers choice, for example, would be the Goffin-King "Just Once In My Life." Or, if we're thinking in terms of Goffin and King, that opens up a whole world of possibilities. (Freddie Scott's "Hey Girl" or, better yet, "Where Does Love Go" might be a place to start.) Songs like the Bacharach-David "Blue Guitar" or Larry Weiss' "Darling Take Me Back" have never really gotten their proper hearing. "You've Lost That Loving Feeling" is, simply, too easy a choice. If we want to choose something by Mann and Weil, there's always less traveled (or definitive) stuff like "Magic Town."

Following "Flowers," Diamond did superb renditions of three of his finest songs: the thoughtful "Morningarde," originally from 1972's Moods LP, but more familiar, perhaps, from Hot August Night; "Shilo," with the "mounting the years" lyric I have long preferred, and "Holly, Holy," a song as sensual (and hypnotic) at the time of its studio-version release, perhaps, as Madonna's "Like a Prayer" would later be for its time; a song ("Holly , Holy") which was, in light of its Gibran-ish imagery, somewhat of a defining moment in late 1969 for Neil.

This segment was followed by two of Neil's biggest hits, the raucous "Cracklin' Rosie" and certainly one of his theme songs, the pensive "I Am ... I Said," after which Neil (and band, as I recall) made his/their exit from the stage. An encore featured the campy "Crunchy Granola Suite" and his long-time closer, the aforementioned "Brother Love's Travelling Salvation Show," wherein we were given the "invitation" to reach out our one hand to "all children — black and white, rich and poor, gay and straight" — a brave sentiment considering the audiences he attracts and our current climate.

Perhaps Neil Diamond can best be summed up as a survivor. Though I long ago quit keeping abreast of his career (the world was handling that task quite well without me), I've gone back and picked up on the albums I'd missed, and found them to be quite satisfactory. Like all writers, Willie Nelson among them, he's had to deal with writer's block, and like Willie, he is perfectly at home interpreting the songs of others. At the same time, like with Willie, it's also nice to hear what he has to say in his own words. Neil Diamond is among the handful on the contemporary scene (Willie included) who can be taken as either a singer or a songwriter, without having to be both at the same time. His legacy is staggering, all shortcomings aside, and he does not appear to be through with us yet.