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Neil Diamond
A Concert Review

August 1, 2005

The United Center

Chicago, IL

A Review and Photos by
The Dude on the Right
A Lot Has Happened in Four Years
For this, that, and other reasons, nearly four years ago, we stopped covering concerts, but earlier this year I thought about resuming the concert scene. The year went on, this, that, and other concerts came and went that I thought would be fun to cover, and yet I still did nothing about it. Then, a couple of months ago, I read Neil Diamond was coming back to Chicago, and I said to myself "Self, do you realize that the last concert you actually covered was Neil Diamond, and that concert was back in 2001?" Itís not that I havenít been to some concerts since then, with the highlights being a batch of Springsteen shows in Philadelphia and Chicago, but covering concerts just fell by the wayside. Anyway, with the Neil announcement, I decided that in getting back into the concert review scene, why not start where I stopped, covering Neil. A few calls were made, and low and behold I found myself, on a hot August night, outside the United Center in Chicago, ready to cover Neil Diamond for the forth time.

A lot has happened in those four years. Most photographers are shooting digital and my old Minolta is still based in the dark ages with my having to buy some film; I gained a few more grey hairs but lost a few pounds; Iíve got 15+ days worth of music on this thing called an Ipod; Some of my friends got married and even have kids, and I must have lost my mind because somehow I was able to confuse the details of nearly every Neil Diamond show I had gone to. I told Stu Gotz (he went with me to this show) that it was Big Cooter and me that got the sing-a-long during "Sweet Caroline" started at a show in Milwaukee, when it was actually the first time we saw Neil at The United Center back in 1996 that it happened. Then I told the cute dudette who escorted us photographers to our spot near the stage that when I saw Neil in Cleveland everyone stayed standing during "America" but the Chicago crowd sat down, when it was actually the other way around. I also told Stu that I found it odd that Neil would end the show with "Iíve Been This Way Before" when, yes, he had done so before, when I saw him in Milwaukee in 1998. And finally there is one last thing I did forget in those four years, and that is even with the waiting around, even sometimes with the hassles or wondering if the tickets will be where they are supposed to be, that I really enjoy covering concerts, being able to get photo clearance, and enjoyed it a lot more than just going to the show.

So, there we were, Stu and I, outside the United Center, when I learn of Stuís latest fascination, feet, more specifically, footwear. He canít understand the flip-flop craze, notices that most people coming to a Neil Diamond show wear comfortable shoes as opposed to the more slutty footwear you would see at a heavy metal show, and comments that women with ugly feet shouldnít wear open-toed shoes because it really accentuates the ugliness, but if they are intent on wearing those open-toed shoes, they should at least paint their toenails because that at least takes your eyes away from the ugliness of their feet. Stuís a weird dude sometimes, and it is with conversations like this that I kinda wished I could have covered Neil this time like I did the last time, taking the photos in Chicago and taking my mom to see the show in Cleveland.  Unfortunately mom's health has taken a little bit of a hit lately, but if Mom lets the stubborn Polack take over, hopefully we can swing seeing him on his next trip through Cleveland.  Anyway, it was time for Stu and I to part ways temporarily, me to take some pictures, him to find his seat, and off we go.

Let the Show Begin
Fresh with my confused mind thinking the crowd was going to sit down shortly after Neil opened the show, I was quickly shown how confused I was, and how right the cute dudette who led us photographers to our spot was, her telling me that Neil does his best to keep the crowd on their feet well into the second song. This was confirmed, especially, with a dude about five rows in front of me who, as Neil started "Crunchy Granola Suite," couldnít help but jump up and down with joy and clapping his hands over his head well into the next song, "Desiree." With a stage set-up that let Neil sing to the fans behind the stage, half of "Desiree" was spent trying to get a picture of Neilís butt (the girls still say he has a nice butt), watching the rest of the band, and realizing it still must be such a cool thing to be in Neilís band, and with "Desiree" coming to a close, it was a quick trip back to the dude-mobile to get rid of the camera gear and head to my seat to really enjoy the show.

Getting to my seat, I was just in time for Neil to lead the crowd in a "break the ice" moment as he told the crowd to turn and look to the person to their right, and then tell them "I Love You." Iím sorry Neil; I didnít participate as I didnít want Stu Gotz to know my deep, hidden thoughts for him. Wait a minute, did I think that or write that? Hmm, anyway, the concert was off in full force by this time.

"Play Me" turned into a sing-a-long, I noticed that Neilís voice is really holding up as he made his way through "Love on the Rocks," and I was still amazed at how "America" has really become more of an anthem than just a song. And as much as the show was about the hits, Neil also does his best to add some variety, good or ehh (liked the inclusion of "Glory Road," not so much the "Jonathon Livingston Seagull" medley). The nice thing, though, is that Neil does his best to at least introduce some of the more obscure material with some fun. Case in point, after a great rendition of "And the Grass Wonít Pay No Mind," Neil does some lamenting about the 1960ís. He starts telling stories of being in New York City, struggling, and how his writing love songs wasnít really paying the bills. So he did a kinda funny intro, complete with talk-back from the back-up ladies, into another song he wrote, done by The Monkees, "Look Out (Here Comes Tomorrow)." Also very entertaining, Neil does a music number for his band introductions, which, sure, the music portion drowns out some of the names and Neilís anecdotes, but it is a lot more entertaining than just your normal "and on congas and percussion, King Errisson!"

Kinda like Jimmy Buffett, there are always songs Neil pretty much is expected to play, but you know what, they are the Neil Diamond songs that never get old if you are a fan. You know the songs, "Play Me," "Forever in Blue Jeans," "You Donít Bring Me Flowers," (and sorry, I must digress for a minute, because as we were leaving, Stu mentioned that he didnít like the slightly over-the-top version that was done, and that the dudette's voice didnít seem to be that good. Me, Iím giving Linda Press, the dudette on the duet, a pass on this one, because even though I do like the version, Iíve also heard her before and her voice was fine, but at this show she seemed to have some vocal issues as I heard a cracked note here and there. Back to the songsÖ) "Holly Holy," "Iím a Believer," "Crackliní Rosie" and "Sweet Caroline," which, I must say, the crowd has finally learned all of their appropriate sing-a-long parts without Neil having to direct them.

Oh yea, thereís one more song you can count on, and that song is "I amÖI Said," which brings me to my personal request for Neil, and maybe this is just me being quirky, butÖ

Dear Neil,
As much as I love your songs and your songwriting, there is also something else I love about your shows and that is the persona of you being Neil Diamond. You know the persona; youíve been perfecting it for years. Thereís the finger pointing into the air, the simple, sort-of yelling "It was a hot August night" and the crowd going wild, the way your hand gestures tell the band the song is done, and your preaching during "Brother Loveís Traveling Salvation Show," although I still find it odd that other reviewers still bring up the fact that you say "gay or straight" especially since, at least according to my "Live in America" set, youíve been singing that since at least 1993, but Iím sorry I digress, and look, there I am doing the same thing as those other reviewers. Anyway, Neil, it was during "I AmÖI Said," you get to the line "to no one there," and you sort of motion to the stage, kinda like itís a lonely room and no one was there. Nice. Then you get to the line "not even the chair," and you point to, well, a stool. Maybe Iím a little nutty, and I suppose without the pointing I wouldnít have cared, but you pointed at the stool and in my head I instantly thought "but thatís a stool." Itís a great song, and I know later during the song you sit on the stool to finish it off, but I couldnít help but also think "Doesnít the song deserve a chair if heís going to point at it?" Iím not thinking a nice chair, like a Barcalounger, but the kind-of, sort-of, beaten-up wooden or steel chair you might find in a cheap studio apartment of a struggling songwriter. I know reviewers would probably poke fun if you did this, and I donít know if itís difficult to finish the song sitting in a chair like that, I just thought that if youíre going to point to a prop during a song, it should at least fit the part. Just me I guess.

The Dude on the Right

Back to the reviewÖ

And so, nearly two hours after Neil hit the stage, and after playing one of my favorite songs to exercise to, "Soolaimon," Neil did his "fake leaving move" after "I AmÖI Said," then came back to the front of the stage for the finishing trio of songs, "Crackliní Rosie," "Brother Loveís Traveling Salvation Show," and "Iíve Been This Way Before," which even though I forgot he had played this as a final song before, I had to chuckle a little at another review of the Chicago show that said he finished with "Brother Love." I guess that reviewer doesnít know one of my rules about concert reviews: If you have to leave a concert before the lights come up, never reference the finishing song.

With all of that being said, the crowd, from the younginí in front of me with the tie-dyed shirt, to the slightly older lady dressed for a fancy night out, to the elder gentleman sporting a 1983 Neil Diamond concert t-shirt with the ĺ length sleeves, they all seemed to have a fabulous time, and thatís the real testament to Neil Diamond. For me, itís TWO, BIG, IT WAS GREAT TO GET BACK TO REVIEWING AND NEIL DIAMOND WAS A FABULOUS SHOW TO REVIEW, THUMBS UP!!!

In the end, Neil Diamond rocks, ainít no big surprise.

Thatís it for this one! Iím The Dude on the Right!! L8R!!!


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