030715 Neil Diamond, Ottawa, ON

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Neil Diamond is one of those acts that I just had to see.  When his monstrously successful Jazz Singer album came out in the early ’80’s I was young enough to be completely enthralled by hit after hit.  Songs like Love On The Rocks, America, and Hello Again seemed just so obvious and perfect to me, I was amazed that they hadn’t just been around forever. 

Neil Diamond hit my young musical sensibilities with the same innate balladeering jackhammer that Phil Collins used, and as I matured musically I was happy to discover that the guy actually holds an admirable place in the echelon of popular music.  I always figured I’d catch him at some festival or on the bill for a show that I was already going to but it’s never happened, so when he announced a tour stop in Ottawa at the Palladium on March 7th, 2015 I jumped on cheap seats right away.

It turned out being a fairly odd concert.  Before the show began an announcement came over the PA warning patrons that the lights would soon “dim suddenly,” and that we should all take a look around and note the nearest emergency exit.  I’m surprised they didn’t ask us all to buckle our safety belts and set our tray tables to a locked position.

He opened with I’m A Believer, which would seem odd to anyone who thought that The Monkees actually wrote it.  Nope, this was part of that “echelon of popular music” stuff I mentioned.  Red, Red Wine, which came midset, easily falls into the same category.  Of course there were plenty of standard Neil Diamond hits as well, like the aforementioned tracks from the Jazz Singer soundtrack, Forever In Blue Jeans, Cracklin’ Rose and a whole bunch more.

Before the show began an announcement came over the PA warning that everyone should be cautious as the lights would soon be dimmed for the performance, and to please look around now and take note of your nearest emergency exit…I’m surprised they didn’t ask us all to buckle our safety belts and set our tray tables to a locked position.  And then they kept turning the house lights up between the songs!   I mean the house lights in the huge arena illuminated completely – I’m not sure if it was between every song or if it only happened several times but it was weird and in my concert-going experience, unprecedented.

Most curious of all (and funniest) was the canned applause*.  Lots of concerts amp up the excitement of a live show by playing a recording of crowd cheering and applause after each number – it’s lame and basically cheating as far as I’m concerned but whatever, it happens – but of course the idea is to blend in with the real audience so that nobody notices the canned crowd.  Well, several times Neil Diamond’s soundguy accidentally had the canned cheering cranked way, way too loud and played it way, way too long after the end of the songs.  Through the speakers we could hear a crowd going absolutely bananas, cheering on and on like AC/DC had just emerged for an encore, meanwhile with the house lights bafflingly turned up it was plain to see that the mostly geriatric crowd was, in fact, just sitting in their seats with arms crossed waiting for Neil to get on with it and play Sweet Caroline.

Which he did – in the encore of course – before ending the show with the only cover song of the night (despite what many might have thought), He Ain’t Heavy, He’s My Brother.

Odd or not it was a pretty good concert; name: checked.  If I ever find Neil Diamond on the bill at a festival that I’m already going to I might even go see him again.

*Runner-up for weirdest moment of the show came when Neil was urging people to stand up for a song, “You on the floor, get on up,” and “You up in the rafters, let’s all stand up,” that sort of thing.  The ladies seated in front of me were genuinely disappointed that he didn’t ask them to stand.  They really, really wanted to stand up and they were audibly tsk-tsk-ing that the star didn’t give them permission to do so.  They remained seated.

No, wait.  The best part was when Neil Diamond addressed the front row with, “I know you’re poor and being poor has got you down, but if we all stand up and dance it might take your mind off of all that!”  The front row tickets cost close to $200 with the fees.

Oh, and my 300-level ticket was upgraded to, well basically anywhere I wanted.  I was offered a floor ticket but opted for section 209 instead (I wouldn’t want to sit with the poor people).  The entire 300-level was shut down and pretty much everyone walking through the door was redirected to Guest Services for new tickets.  There were times when the venue felt like a ghost town.

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