Neil Diamond Marks L.A. Homecoming with Sold-Out Run at Hollywood Bowl
The pop legend revisits five decades of hits at the second of two sold-out shows at the iconic outdoor venue.
It wasn't a Hot August Night — the 1972 live album recorded at the Greek Theatre that made him a superstar — but a cool May evening. Still, Neil Diamond's return 43 years later to Los Angeles' other iconic outdoor venue delivered a sizzling set of pop perfection to the "18,000 personal friends" who'd filled the Hollywood Bowl up to its oxygen-deprived rafters.
The second of two sold-out Bowl performances, Saturday's gig saw Diamond — who at 74 remains one of music's master showmen — loose, nostalgic and sharp as a tack. (His one senior moment: momentarily forgetting the name "Periscope," which was live-streaming the concert.)
Trim, bearded and clad in all-black (a sport coat and untucked shirt, no tie), Diamond emerged beneath a 3D projection of a massive, spinning diamond — he's always been a sucker for shiny things — to whoops of appreciation from the generation-spanning crowd.
He opened with the catchy "I'm a Believer," a 1966 composition made famous by The Monkees, delivering its puppy-love lyrics with moves like — well, if not quite like Jagger, at least a proud dad showing off at his daughter's wedding. Diamond followed that with the deliciously maudlin "Love on the Rocks," one of three classics from his one attempt at movie stardom, 1980's The Jazz Singer.
"How great it is to be back in my hometown," Diamond said of the city he's called home since 1968. "My hometown — meaning that four of my doctors are here tonight ... and my shrink." Self-deprecating (and genuinely funny) cracks like that suggested Diamond hasn't lost touch with his humility — this despite a five-decade career that has notched 11 number one singles, 125 million records sold (up there with Elton John and Bruce Springsteen), consistently sold-out concerts and, in 2011, induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
In a set that approached two-and-a-half hours, Diamond, backed by a 12-piece band, powered through 24 songs — a feat that would test the stamina of sex-symbols half his age. He hopscotched through the decades with comfort-food compositions like "Hello Again" (another Jazz Singer hit), "Kentucky Woman" and "Girl, You'll Be a Woman Soon" (two 1967 hits from his Bang Records days) and a trio from Hot August Nights ("Crunchy Granola Suite," "Morningside" and "Holly Holy").
There were recent songs, too, like "The Art of Love" from his 2014 album Melody Road, a track Diamond said took "five years to write ... The good news is it takes three minutes to sing."
Diamond later lost the blazer, revealing a loud shirt (though nothing close to the glittery get-ups of yore, sadly) adorned with zippers and sleeves the color of red, red wine — a winning choice to accompany a dance-along version of that 1967 hit, covered by UB40 in 1983. Diamond performed that band's reggae version, throwing in his own rap lyrics. ("Even though the words end up turning out wrong / I don't care 'cause they're playing my song.")
He strolled the catwalk on "Pretty Amazing Grace" and the crowd-pleasing "Forever in Blue Jeans," shaking hands, slapping high-fives and, in one instance, catching a pair of pink panties tossed to him from a female fan. (Diamond examined them briefly, then tossed them back.) "It's so good for the ego to have girls calling out your name," he shared. "Makes me feel like I'm 70 again."
Later, Diamond sang the autobiographical "Brooklyn Roads" to sweet home movies capturing his childhood in that New York borough, living in a cramped apartment two floors above Hollander's Prime Meats. "Growing up in Brooklyn was special in the way that it was simple and sparse," Diamond reminisced in his intro. "It wasn't about worldly possessions. It was about being safe and happy and surrounded by love 24-7."
He'd dedicate his life to recapturing that warm-fuzzy feeling in song, like in the closer, "I Am... I Said," in which Diamond sings, "L.A.'s fine, but it ain't home / New York's home, but it ain't mine no more." The crowd didn't take offense.
It was there again in the encore, which included the requisite "Sweet Caroline" (Diamond encouraged the "so goods!" that have become Boston Red Sox gospel) and "America," a smash that somehow manages to turn bald patriotism into something wistful and, yes, sexy. It was accompanied by projected imagery of waving U.S. flags and soaring bald eagles, as the bandshell was lit in stripes of red, white and blue.
If anyone can make that work, Neil Diamond can.
I’m a Believer
Love on the Rocks
Pretty Amazing Grace
You Got to Me
Girl, You’ll Be a Woman Soon
Red Red Wine
If You Know What I Mean
The Art of Love
Forever in Blue Jeans
Crunchy Granola Suite
I Am...I Said
Brother Love's Traveling Salvation Show (instrumental)