Gig review: Neil Diamond at First Direct Arena, Leeds

Neil Diamond
Neil Diamond
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It is strikingly remarkable just how many of Neil Diamond’s compositions have become ingrained in the wider public consciousness as hits for other artists.

As arguably the definitive purveyor of consummate easy listening, it stands to reason that several of his songs will have scaled the charts to greater success in the hands of others; but it is slightly alarming just how many. UB40, The Monkees, Elvis Presley and Johnny Cash are just a handful of those who’ve cracked the jackpot with material penned by the Brooklyn native.

Two years after his Leeds debut though, Diamond is reclaiming that material on his return to the First Direct Arena. Belatedly celebrating the 50th anniversary of his career, he is in fine fettle for a man of 75, a crooked grin hidden under a trim salt-and-pepper beard.

Upon a four-tiered stage of Vegas trappings, garish Hawaiian shirts in absentia, he and his band deliver an evening of rock ’n’ roll ballads chock-full of cheese and cheer; but cut through with a genuine sincerity.

Though grizzled round the edges, his gravelled croon still elicits flushes of hysteria amongst the predominantly quinquagenarian-and-above crowd; for Solitary Man, recast as a mid-tempo R&B rocker, he shuffles gamely around, whipping them up further.

During the mournful Dry Your Eyes, dedicated to the victims of the Las Vegas attacks, he wrings every drop of melancholy from his voice; on the stirring If You Know What I Mean, he reaches forward, arm outstretched, as if to grasp the hands below, out of reach. It’s undeniably schmaltzy at points – but the tender warmth he possesses is testament to Diamond’s undeniable connection over a half-century.

Over a set nearly two-and-a-half-dozen tracks long, he still can’t cram in all of his biggest cuts, such is the depth of his catalogue; Hello Again, America and Desiree are conspicuous by their nonappearance. But the rest rightfully bring the house down; the country-twang of Forever in Blue Jeans, the lush Barry-via-Bacharach swell of September Morn.

On Barbara Streisand duet You Don’t Bring Me Flowers, he trades lines with a plaintive saxophone solo in lieu of a female vocal partner. By the time he reels off Sweet Caroline, complete with a fake-out fourth chorus, 10,000 people are on their feet, lustily bellowing back at him.

As sparkling as his name suggests, Diamond remains a shining showman without peer; a smoothly polished jewel in the crown of light entertainment.