Last night Neil Diamond played the final show of his 2008-09 world tour at the Rose Garden. The show made up for a previously cancelled date back on September 22, which was postponed not because of health reasons as commonly reported but because of a logistical error that prevented the tour from getting to Portland in time from the tour's previous date of Calgary.
I had an excellent seat for this show, not because of any press connection (the Mercury's request to the Rose Garden for their assistance in coverage was entirely ignored, despite our glowing article in anticipation of the original Sept 22 date) but because my good friend TC has a cousin who works for Neil. (Thanks TC!) I admit to having a soft spot for Neil Diamond, which has its origins in my childhood. Like many kids of boomers, Diamond was played around the house as I was growing up, and in a household otherwise saturated with classical music, he was the first "pop" personality that I became aware of as an entity. I have actually seen Neil Diamond in concert once before, at Madison Square Garden with my entire family. I was eight years old; it was awesome.
Last night's show wasn't quite as exciting. Back in those halcyon days, Diamond performed marathon 3+ hour sets, packed to the gills with every hit imaginable. Ol' Neil has gotten on in years (dude's 67!) and last night's show was tidily under two hours. He played most of the hits, but perhaps the set was more notable for what he didn't play than what he did—ancient classics like "Shilo," "Kentucky Woman," and "Girl You'll Be a Woman Soon" were neglected. Instead, he played "Sweet Caroline" twice in a row (yep! I didn't know you could do that! But if ever a song begged to be played twice in a row, it's motherfucking "Sweet Caroline"), a staged rendition of "You Don't Bring Me Flowers," which ended in a sort of icky embrace with his backup singer ("Look, he's acting!" said TC), and relative obscurities like "Crunchy Granola Suite" and his cover of the Hollies' "He Ain't Heavy... He's My Brother," which he dedicated to the victims of Hurricane Ike.
There was also a sweaty rendition of "Forever in Blue Jeans," during which the largest pair of panties I have ever seen were thrown onto the stage. ("What is that? Is that a pillowcase?" I initially wondered. "Ohhhh.....") And a patriotic rendition of "America" that sounded like a million eagles soaring over Mount Rushmore while giving Chuck Norris-style roundhouse kicks to every terrorist in the world. At the end of the song, he froze into the Jazz Singer point, and held the pose for a good 60 seconds.
And there were new songs. He played three tunes from his latest, Home Before Dark, which washed right over my head, except for a truly terrible song called "Don't Go There," which I gather was his attempt to use hip new lingo in a song—not realizing that the phrase he picked is already 10 years woefully out of date.
So if Neil is 67, the average showgoer at the Rose Garden last night was even older. We were the youngest people by about 30 years. Never at a concert have I seen so many walkers, wheelchairs, and those little tube things they shove up your nose. I don't know how else to put it: Everyone was old. I thought for sure there would be more 40somethings, or people closer to my own age—children of boomers, ironic hipsters, etc—but pretty much everyone there had an AARP card. This resulted in most of the people sitting throughout the show, rising to their feet for a few obligatory numbers. But let me tell you: Everyone there had a blast. I have never seen so many smiling old fogeys. They were all delighted, particularly the elderly women, all of whom had mysterious Mona Lisa smiles on their faces as Neil gyrated onstage. Yeah, the show was corny as all hell—but I'd be lying if I said it wasn't fun.