Neil Diamond review – a show so smooth it could be on rails

The Hydro, Glasgow
The songwriting sparkle may have faded, but as a performer the country-pop heavyweight still steers a set with consummate cheese

“It still makes my heart go flippity-flop whenever I hear the girls crying out my name,” oozes our silver-haired and -bearded host, his signature garish shirts these days retired for a more understated all-in-black look. “It makes me feel like I’m 70 again.”

Unexpected palpitations aren’t usually a welcome eventuality for a man creeping close to octogenarianism, and it’s been a long time since most people in this audience considered themselves girls. But as light entertainment spectacles go, this moment of tongue-in-cheek badinage typifies the show.

With 125m record sales, country-pop heavyweight Neil Diamond still pips not only whippersnappers such as Kanye West in the all-time bestseller ranks, but even fellow veterans such as Bruce Springsteen. The Brooklyner’s new album, Melody Road, won’t bolster that tally tremendously, so patently has Diamond’s sparkle as both singer and songwriter faded. And yet as a live performer, blowing kisses and waving to fans with consummately cheesy ease, he can still steer a set so smoothly and steadily it feels like it’s on rails.

I’m a Believer, Love on the Rocks and Girl, You’ll Be a Woman Soon pad out a standoffishly received first third. Then practically the whole arena is hoisted to its feet by a version of his own Red Red Wine that borrows soft-reggae cues from its cover by UB40. Diamond leads by example with some game dancing and even, yes, a brief rap (eat your heart out Kanye).

A lyric video accompanying Hallmark-card-naff new song The Art of Love leaves surely nobody any the wiser as to why it took five years to write. No assistance is required with the words to singalongs Forever in Blue Jeans, I Am … I Said and Cracklin’ Rosie. As the third hour progresses, Sweet Caroline inspires a mass of arm-swaying, and spills over into a bonus fourth chorus following a fake end. By this point it’s hard to know which to admire more – Diamond’s stamina or that of his crowd.

• At Manchester Arena on 9 July. Box office: 0844 847 8000. Then touring.


Malcolm Jack

The GuardianTramp

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