I last saw Neil Diamond five years ago at Fenway Park. He’s at TD Garden Monday March 23. I’ll be back for another viewing. My take from back then: Well, Neil didn’t pull any punches: First song: “Sweet Caroline,” that curious Fenway anthem that booms throughout the park and ensnares the mindless in the middle of every 8th inning, no matter what the score. Key lyric (we think): “Good times never seemed so good – so good, so good so good.” (Even when the Sox are being drubbed.) An hour later, Diamond – slim and trim at 67, attired entirely in black, trousers and sequined shirt– played the thing again “for anyone who came late to the show.” And then, one more time – or at least the opening verse and some choruses.
This is almost as shameless as having your new, semi-introspective album played before the show, which was done with “Home Before Dark,” a damn good, Rick Rubin-produced CD of exquisite melodies, spare arrangements and penetrating lyrics. Later, Diamond did a rather compelling three-song set from that album, a creative apex that nevertheless sent many old-schoolers to the rest rooms and beer stands.
Diamond is a singer-songwriter who is, to some, what Bruce Springsteen and Bono are to others, and what Elvis once was. Big of voice and grandiose song structure, but not afraid of subtlety. Someone who jerks the chain between rocker and ballad, blurs the line between sincerity and schmaltz, loves a cushy bed of horns and a tight 14-piece band – and the occasional ripping electric guitar lick. Someone whose personal jukebox includes songs written for others (“I’m a Believer,” “Kentucky Woman”) and a boatload of his own hits, “Holly Holy,” “Love on the Rocks,” “Play Me,” “I Am … I Said,” “Cherry, Cherry” and the final blast of “Brother Love’s Travelin’ Salvation Show.” You’ll get treacle, you’ll get bombast, and you’ll forgive most of it because Diamond’s baritone – still resonates.
It’s quasi-pompous and proud, yet faux-humble. Spiritual, timeless, guileless. (Does anyone sense the dissonance now in “America,” a chest-pumper of a song about America’s traditional welcoming of immigrants that doesn’t ring quite so true anymore?) Diamond is someone who will never give up – he assured us naysayers may want him retired, but avers, “I don’t think I’m ever gonna stop.”
What is Diamond’s audience now? His demographic is 20s-70s. “My father and mother listened to Neil on 8-track,” said 30-something Erin O’Brien, at the show with a group of Woburn and Wilmington pals. “We’re old-school,” added Jim Welch. “My first concert was Neil Diamond in 1983, in third grade.”
On the other end, Marcia Fitzgerald, 67, said at the end of the show, “I love the words. They tell stories.”
The fans, they went crazy. Walter McDonough, a Boston music business attorney/activist and longtime Diamond fan, marveled at it all. “The people I was sitting with, it was like no one had let them out of the house for a year. They were going berserk.”
“I’m 43,” said Marina, from Wakefield. “I’d rather see him than freakin’ Steven Tyler.”
Tix: $166-$56. Starts at 8.
100 Legends Way, Boston, www.ticketmaster.com 800-745-3000