Neil Diamond still hasn’t lost a step

Josh Linehan

While Neil Diamond’s stage movements at the Xcel Energy Center may have showed all of his 60 years, the legend proved Friday that his voice hasn’t lost anything.

The crowd for the first of two sold-out shows was packed with more parents of college kids than University students. Most of the pre-show banter centered on attendees’ ability-or lack thereof-to traverse up the steps they had descended moments before.

Taking the stage behind a gigantic, still-rising Old Glory, Diamond opened the show with a patriotic version of “America,” changing the bridge so he sang “Stand up for America!” in all directions, including to those packed in behind the stage.

He would later comment on the events of Sept. 11, not with jingoism, but with a simple “They say music has the power to heal. I say, let the healing begin.”

From there, Diamond ran through a laundry list of classics, a sort of songwriter’s resume showcase that could only be matched by the likes of Willie Nelson or Bob Dylan, who played the same venue the night before.

Fifteen musicians backed the crooner through such standards as “Solitary Man,” “Red, Red Wine,” “I’m a Believer” and “Beautiful Noise.” Diamond executed them with style.

Neil the ladies’ man hasn’t lost a step, either. During a solid version of “Girl, You’ll be a Woman Soon,” a woman in her mid-30s was led to the edge of the stage, where Diamond took her hand, stroked her hair and finally reclined on the edge of the stage to croon the last lines in her ear.

It wasn’t all nostalgia for the evening, as a dogged Diamond played material from his latest album, Three Chord Opera. Most of the new material seemed forced and stiff, with the notable exception of “You’re the Reason I Haven’t Played This Song in Years,” a stirring ballad that challenged Diamond’s range and seemed both emotional and genuine.

Those looking for Diamond to revolutionize the face of music might have gone home disappointed. And maybe the $67.50 ticket price was a tad excessive. But is was a chance to see a songwriting legend in person. And maybe that’s good enough.

-Josh Linehan