Neil Diamond: ‘So good, so good’ at Royal Farms Arena - Baltimore Post-ExaminerBaltimore Post-Examiner

Neil Diamond: ‘So good, so good’ at Royal Farms Arena

His hair is more gray than black and he doesn’t move as swiftly as he did decades ago. But Neil Diamond still has what has always defined him, even after turning 76 this year: a flush, baritone voice that has transcended generations with its sultry sex appeal that grabs an audience and never lets go.

Diamond responded with an exclamation point to any question whether he could still entertain a sellout crowd by sauntering across the Royal Farms Arena stage for more than two hours during his 50 Year Anniversary World Tour on Friday. Dressed in all black save for some splotches of white  on his shirt that matched his facial hair, the  man who provided the soundtrack to so many lives cranked out 27 songs that took a predominantly Baby Boomer audience on a trip down memory lane.

Diamond’s 50 Year Anniversary World Tour was as much a farewell to the Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall of Famer who has sold more than 120 million albums and knocked out 11 No. 1 singles as it was his first return to the Baltimore venue in 24 years.

Neil Diamond played Royal Farms Arena on Friday for the first time since 1993. He also performed in the venue in 1971 and 1972. (All photos by Costa Swanson)

The audience’s decades-long love affair with Diamond was apparent as soon as stepped on the stage backed by a 13-piece that featured many musicians who have been with him for decades. Diamond opened with In My Lifetime and kept building momentum with Cherry, Cherry, Desiree, You Got Me, Solitary Man, Love on the Rocks, Play Me and Song Song Blue. It felt like he was chatting with the audience as much as singing to them. He acknowledged as many fans as possible since this could very well be the last time he ever takes the stage at Baltimore landmark, which he first played in 1971.

“I go wherever the noise is,” he said as sections of the crowd screamed to get his attention.

Neil Diamond put on quite a show for a capacity crowd at Royal Farms Arena on Friday night.

Diamond didn’t know exactly when he went from being a boy from Brooklyn born to a Jewish family of Russian and Polish immigrants to one of the biggest names in music. But this is clear: He wouldn’t have had more than 30 albums, 38-top 10 hits, been inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame (1984) and Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall of Fame (2011) and continue to sell out arenas from Atlanta to Anaheim if his music hasn’t withstood the test of time.

Diamond continued to power, but not rush, through his performance with his like Dry Your Eyes, which he dedicated to the deadly bombing of Ariana Grande’s concert in Manchester, England, If You Know What I Mean, Forever in Blue Jeans and You Don’t Bring Me Flowers.

But what makes Diamond’s music resonate across racial and age demographics is its influence. He played Red Red Wine – a song he wrote that became a megahit for reggae group UB40 – and I’m a Believer, which became perhaps the biggest single ever for The Monkees.

One of the night’s more poignant songs was Brooklyn Roads. The 1968 hit was brought to life by a huge hexagon video screen that showed footage of Diamond’s life, from his humble roots of being raised in an apartment above a butcher’s shop, to vacationing with his working-class parents, to him performing in front of packed stadiums and to dancing with Princess Diana.

Diamond focused on his voice instead of his showmanship during the end of his show. He conserved his energy by telling stories about the origins of his songs rather than prance around the stage as he did when he was younger. He made sure every member of his band, which included two percussionists, a pianist, two singers, guitarists, and a bassist as well as the one on trumpet, clarinet, accordion and trombone, had their time in the spotlight.

He finished strong with Pretty Amazing Grace, Lonely Looking Sky, Skybird, Done Too Soon, Holly Holy and I Am I Said, which brought the crowd to its feat, giving the legend a raucous, standing ovation as he waved goodbye.

But no one left. They knew he hadn’t played what everyone came to hear – two of his signature songs that will endure forever.

When it began, I can’t begin to knowing….

The first line of Sweet Caroline was like cracking open a bottle of champagne to everyone’s delight, knowing it was time to sing Diamond’s signature song one final time. He let the crowd do most of the work, reprising the 1969 song so the crowd could sing the chorus several times before closing with Cracklin’ Rosie and America.

When the final note had played, Diamond waved to the crowd, disappeared into the darkness and just like that, he was gone.

About the author

Jon Gallo

Jon Gallo is an award-winning journalist and editor with 19 years of experience, including stints as a staff writer at The Washington Post and sports editor at The Baltimore Examiner. He also believes the government should declare federal holidays in honor of the following: the Round of 64 of the NCAA men's basketball tournament; the Friday of the Sweet 16; the Monday after the Super Bowl; and of course, the day after the release of the latest Madden NFL video game. Contact the author.

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