The Spokane Arena people would have loved to have Neil Diamond as its opening act last September. Unfortunately, the man wasn’t on tour at the time.
No problem. I hereby take it upon myself to declare Saturday night to be the Arena’s unofficial grand opening concert.
A number of big acts have played the Arena already. But Diamond is the first mega-act, in that upper tier of acts which includes Barbra Streisand, Elton John, Paul McCartney, the Three Tenors and hardly anybody else.
Ironically, legions of people cannot tolerate Neil Diamond. The Rolling Stone Record Guide uses words like “vapid,” “pretentious” and “execrable” to describe his albums of the ‘70s and ‘80s. His 1980 vanity film “The Jazz Singer” was a classic case of star-narcissism.
Yet the man sold out 12,000 tickets in four hours for this show. He has always attracted one of the most intensely devoted followings of any contemporary singer. Despite all of the critical carping, this devotion is not entirely misplaced.
Take a fresh listen to three of his earliest ‘60s hits: “Cherry Cherry,” “Solitary Man,” and best of all, “Thank the Lord for the Nighttime.” These songs have a classic feel-good pop sound, based on a driving guitar rhythm.
The guy knows how to write a hit song, something he has done not just for himself but also for the Monkees (“I’m a Believer,” “A Little Bit Me, A Little Bit You”) and UB40 (“Red, Red Wine”).
He began to take his songwriting a little too seriously in the ‘70s, when he began to sound like an imitation Rod McKuen. The nadir probably came with “I Am, I Said” which contains the unfortunate line, “And no one heard at all, not even the chair.”
But like other prolific songwriters - McCartney comes to mind - his talented side continues to emerge even through a lot of subpar material. Diamond’s most recent album, “Tennessee Moon,” contains some pleasant reminders of Diamond’s old guitar-based style, in the midst of a number of songs aimed at the country charts.
Still, Diamond’s appeal is best appreciated on stage, where his popularity has never flagged. His 1991 concert tour, the “Love in the Round” tour, was the top-grossing tour of the year for a solo artist.
The Spokane Arena concert will use the same revolving stage he used in that tour (which didn’t come to Spokane because the Arena was still just a dream). It will be an in-the-round show, which means that everybody should get a decent view.
The show will include material from “Tennessee Moon” as well as many of his old hits.
, DataTimes ILLUSTRATION: 2 Color photos
MEMO: This sidebar appeared with the story: CONCERT Neil Diamond will perform at 8 p.m. Saturday at the Spokane Arena. Tickets are sold out.