Fifteen songs into his first of four nights at the Greek Theatre, Neil Diamond finally remarked on the nature of the evening's anniversary, 40 years since the recording of "Hot August Night" in this very venue.
"It's hard to believe that 40 years ago we did a series of shows here which we recorded," he said of the 10-night stand that began Aug. 24, 1972. "It made my day, it made my year, it made my life, the Greek Theatre did." And with that Diamond began to revisit the live album that catapulted him from star songwriter and recording artist into the ranks of superstar concert performer.
He rolled through "Crunchy Granola Suite," "Morningside," "Holly Holy," "Sweet Caroline" and "I Am ... I Said," each one played reverently as reminders of both the studio recordings and the original hot August night. (Friday was plenty hot, too, as local temperatures hit the 90s.)
Overall, the two-hour show was a celebration of Diamonds music up through 1980's "The Jazz Singer," with jokes and anecdotes about his wife, grandmother and tweets directed to his Twitter account throughout the day, a bit of a time-capsule show with crowd-pleasing a primary concern.
Diamond's set list varied slightly in order, but included pretty much the same songs he has been performing since he started his summer tour 27 shows ago on June 1 in Ft. Lauderdale, Fla. His show is highly compartmentalized with blocks of ballads, '60s rockers, sing-alongs and, finally, the "Hot August Night" highlights. One could say he is paying tribute to "Hot August Night" nearly every night on this tour: 15 of the 22 songs performed at the Greek on Aug. 11 appear on Universal Music's deluxe edition of "Hot August Night."
As he did in '72, Diamond had a couple dozen string players on hand to enhance his 13-member band that included four horn players and three back-up singers. Somewhere in the 1990s Diamond took more care in reproducing live the nuances of his recordings and it's now to the point that he includes upright bass, organ and even accordion on multiple tunes.
After opening with the midtempo "Soolaimon," he opted for a string of ballads before reaching back to the 1960s tunes he built his songwriting career on -- "Shilo," "Red Red Wine," "Girl, You'll Be a Woman Soon," "Cherry, Cherry" and "Solitary Man." At 71, his voice remains powerful and accurate; he reaches toward the baritone register for emphasis just as he did throughout the 1970s. Tell-tale signs of the '60s and '70s reveal themselves in overwrought or painfully obvious lyrics, but he never falters in delivering every line with conviction.
"Forever in Blue Jeans"
"Love on the Rocks"
"Red Red Wine"
"Girl, You'll Be a Woman Soon"
"I'm a Believer" (ballad version)
"I'm a Believer" (rock 'n' roll version)
"You Don't Bring Me Flowers"
"Crunchy Granola Suite"
"I Am ... I Said"
"Brother Love's Traveling Salvation Show"
"I've Been This Way Before"