Aaron Beck

Concert Review: Neil Diamond

The Columbus Dispatch - August 26, 2008

While a back-up singer did her part during You Don't Bring Me Flowers last night in Value City Arena, Neil Diamond sat at a white linen-draped table for two and sipped a glass of red wine.

He should have pounded four shots of honey and a pint of Robitussin and then climbed into a time machine and journeyed far away from the stage because this show should not have gone on.

From the beginning of the concert at 8:15 when he barked, "Hello, Columbus" (and laid waste to the lyrics of Holly Holy) through the end of the set at 10 p.m. (with the campy rock-gospel, we're-all-God's-children number Brother Love's Traveling Salvation Show), the Jazz Singer's pipes coughed up words to familiar songs in sounds that can be described only as painful.

No one who's been checking in on Diamond's 67-year-old voice could have seen it coming. Recent YouTube clips from the tour find him in fine form, and although his voice on his latest albums has a naturally deeper, more gravelly quality, it's nowhere near Tom Waits/Bob Dylan/Joe Cocker territory.

Which is why an hour in, while Diamond's feral-sounding throat croaked Solitary Man, more than 70 people were standing in line at a customer service walk-up in the lobby asking for refunds for tickets - face value $19.50 to $120.

Heidi Boyle, in Columbus for business, was one. She said she's attended "maybe a dozen concerts" in her life - five of them by Diamond. She saw a show in July in Minneapolis.

"It was phenomenal," Boyle said. "This is not what it sounded like. This was just sad because I love his music. It's not even about the money. It's about the time. People in front of me drove from Kansas to go to the show."

(As of deadline - 12:15 a.m. today - details about refunds were sketchy. Boyle said venue representatives were taking names and numbers and promising to call upset ticket holders today.)

Typically when a singer goes on with the show, despite an obvious ailment, the singer's acknowledgement of the distraction after the first song diffuses the distraction. Audience members then pull for the singer to power through every tune and they will wholeheartedly applaud with a raucous combination of sympathy and enthusiasm.

Diamond called himself out not once during the show, which was akin to pretending a house isn't on fire when all four walls are going down in flames around you.

It was all a letdown for a few reasons. The 14-piece band was classy all night, sounded great, never distracted from their leader in black and it was grandiose only when a song called for a smidge of pomp (OK - a lot during the sing-along Sweet Caroline and the clanging America).

The stage show, which included a non-cloying sentimental journey in the form of film footage from Diamond's working-class New York stamping grounds (during Brooklyn Roads), was not the overblown, Las Vegas-style affair most people might expect from the man who put the spangle in spangled shirt.

The set list, packed with the usual hits - Cherry, Cherry; Forever in Blue Jeans; Love on the Rocks - all delivered in a hellishly dry, Howlin' Wolf-like rasp, contained three tunes from Diamond's latest low-key, after-hours, singer-songwriter-ly album Home Before Dark.

The proper set ended with the recent Hell Yeah (a tribute to Johnny Cash on 2005's Home Before Dark-like 12 Songs) before Diamond left the stage, changed his shirt and returned (in less than a minute) to bang out America and the aforementioned Brother Love's Traveling Salvation Show and most likely to get a jug of hot tea with lemon.

"It was a hot August night," Diamond hoarsely sang-spoke as he began the song.

Not really. It was more like an anticlimactic August night that a lot of people who paid a lot of money to witness will try to forget.