Idol Chatter

neildiamondpicforic.jpgI’ve heard Neil Diamond’s music before and loved it. But I never thought it’d be time to call him Reverend Neil! Let me explain.
What do you do when you’re 67 years old, on a world-wide tour, after having lost your voice on one stop and having been on the road for most of the year? Well, if you’re Neil Diamond, you schedule some more dates! The venerable veteran has boldly added swings through the South, the Midwest, the Northeast and the West Coast and he’s extended the “Home Before Dark” tour into next year.
I had never been to a Neil Diamond concert until his recent stop at the Hollywood Bowl, and now I think I understand what all the hub-bub’s about. He’s still got it. I expected to find an older guy, semi-faking his way through much of the material to fill the show. Instead, I was struck by the near-studio-level precision, his ease in wading through the crowd like a night club singer, the pace of the intermission-less show featuring 27 songs and the passion with which he still brings it.

I had heard “Hot August Night”–his historic Greek Theatre shows from 1971–for much of the past 37 years, and he sounded just as good on stage at the Bowl. His band even reprised the first part of that concert which accomplished the rare feat of authentically taking the crowd (and me) back in time.
But the biggest surprise for me was the inspirational side of Neil, not just in terms of energy but in terms of spiritual references. Of course “Brother Love’s Travelin’ Salvation Show” has brought the tent feelings to many a concert, but in his later works he’s dived even deeper into spiritually themed music.
The first single from his current CD was “Pretty Amazing Grace,” a very loose takeoff from the classic hymn, a love song complete with references to being an “empty vessel,” the “doorway of your chapel” and, like the Psalmist, being “humbled and awed by everything I found,” even as “You stood beside a wretch like me.”
As he neared the close, even after “I Am…I Said,” he sang “Man of God,” declaring “I’m a man of faith. And faith is somethin’ you can’t see , but if we want to make it through, faith is how it’s gotta be,” and “I’m thanking you, Lord, for givin’ me song, For makin’ me strong and for takin’ my hand, I’ll go up to Heaven when I reach the end but up until then gonna do what I can.”
In his close, he also brought the measured assurance that he wasn’t too religiously over the top. “Hell yeah,” said the song. “I loved it all, and I say it loud, I’ve loved it all and I’m not too proud. I freed by soul, Just let if fly…Hell yeah!” And “And Love’s a gift that’s made for giving, give it all away and have it still, and hell yeah you will.”
I’m not sure evangelicals will ever confuse “Hell yeah” for an Amen, but for Neil’s brand of spirituality, it might as well have been the Hallelujah Chorus, and the crowd was certainly following the choir director.

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