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As one of the most popular live performers in the world, Neil Diamond has a lot of venues he can call his own, but only one he can truly call home: L.A.’s Greek Theatre. As the story goes, and the new 40th anniversary edition of Hot August Night confirms, in 1972, Diamond was on the verge of superstardom. He needed one major signature event to make the leap and the multi-platinum Hot August Night, recorded at the Greek on August 24, 1972, became that transcendent moment. After that date, Neil Diamond became an icon.
He acknowledged his own history on Saturday night, returning to the Greek for the first time in 25 years. “Forty years ago it made my day, made my year, made my professional life, the Greek Theatre did,” he said of the album that changed his career. Indeed, the impact of the venue was foremost on Diamond’s mind and he seemed visibly moved when, during the intro to “Cherry, Cherry,” he had the house lights turned all the way up to “take in” the crowd. “I love you,” he said to the screaming masses. “This is a beautiful sight for me.”
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The significance of those original dates was felt beyond the stage banter, it hung over every part of his two-hour set. Backed by a 14-piece band, Diamond kicked off the show with a joyous version of “Sooliamon,” the same celebratory track that led into the finale of the Hot August Night album.
With four more decades of hits to draw from, Diamond and his exceptional band didn’t stick to the original set list strictly, but a vast majority of the material came from that album. Among the many highlights were the raucous “Holly Holy,” a gorgeously quiet “Morningside” and the anthemic “Cracklin’ Rosie,” which he punctuated with the lines, “We got all night, to set the world right.”
As shrewd a performer as any touring today, one who, like Bruce Springsteen, knows his audience exceptionally well, Diamond grasped the significance of the shows not just for himself, but for his devout fans, many of whom were either reliving their past or trying to tap into a moment in time they might have missed on the first go-round. As a result, the shows played heavily on both nostalgia and merriment.
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Whether it was the sing-along reprisals of both “Red, Red Wine” and “Sweet Caroline,” which was delivered three times in some capacity, or the patriotic glee of “America,” which featured digital fireworks and red, white and blue imagery, the show was a testament to escapism.
Some of that may have come from Diamond himself, who, at the age of 71, seems at the prime of his life both professionally and personally. In the last year, he has been feted with a Kennedy Center Honor and inducted into the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame. And on Friday, leading into the Greek grandstand, he received a star on the Hollywood Walk Of Fame, which he recognized during the intro to the moving “Glory Road.” More importantly, he married his manager Katie McNeil earlier this year, and celebrated that union by dedicating “I’m A Believer” to her. Starting the song as a sweet ballad, he then jumped into the upbeat Monkees rendition, which turned the venue into a party. “Thank you for allowing me to be a fool for a few minutes,” he said after the alternate cut.
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This willingness to play the fool is part of what’s led to Diamond’s enduring and passionate love affair with his fans. He puts himself out there unashamedly, as he did repeatedly on Saturday night. Delivering the smash ballad “Love On The Rocks” in a spoken voice before rising into an impassioned vocal and serenading the crowd in “Hello Again” and putting forth intimate moments with classics like “I Am… I Said,” Diamond wore his heart on his sleeve — as always.
But ever the showman, Diamond wasn’t going to let the momentous occasion go out without a bang, which he provided with “Brother Love’s Travelling Salvation Show,” the song that closes Hot August Night. A musical revival that perfectly encapsulated the nostalgia and gaiety of the evening, it provided the perfect culmination for Diamond’s triumphant return to the place that personifies home.
Forever In Beautiful Jeans
Love On The Rocks
Red Red Wine (with one reprise)
Girl, You’ll Be A Woman Soon
I’m A Believer
I’m A Believer (version two)
You Don’t Bring Me Flowers
Crunchy Granola Suite
Sweet Caroline (with three reprises)
I Am…I Said
Brother Love’s Travelling Salvation Show
I’ve Been This Way Before
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