The solitary man – Neil Diamond – is 74 years old and on his “Melody Road” 74-concert world tour. Coincidence? As coincidental as a pre-eminent performer’s perfectly paced show can be. Singer-songwriter Diamond, in fine form vocally and physically, played to a packed First Niagara Center on Tuesday night.
“Melody Road,” his 32nd studio album, was released in the fall of 2014, 48 years after “Solitary Man,” his debut smash that propelled him onto his artistic journey. The latest release, piped over the public address system before the concert (at an adult ears’ comfort level), received a mere two-song slot on the set list: the show instead was chock-full of Diamond’s enduring and beloved ballads and pop classics.
The 11-piece band hit the stage, playing an overture of Diamond’s biggest hits. Deafening roars happened the second that he was visible.
“Hello Buffalo! Are you ready to rock? Are you ready to say goodbye to winter? Right here! Right now! Right on!” were his first words. With that groovy greeting referencing leaving gray days behind, who could not be ready to fete the heck out of universally themed, oft-specific moments presented in catchy lyrical beats?
“I’m a Believer,” his swaggering ’60s tune penned for The Monkees, was the show opener. As with a handful of his other masterful tunes, they were down-tempo, augmented with horn and percussive bursts that rendered them springtime fresh.
Diamond, all in black, save for a bit of red around his neck, blew kisses to his adoring fans after his second song, “Love on the Rocks.” His studied, yet earnest gestures of opened, beneficent hands tossed adulation back to fans. “Wow, this is very nice,” he said. “A great audience will determine a great show and … you’re going to get one tonight.” More deafening roars, and this was two songs in.
“Solitary Man,” one of the signature songs, featured the incredible Horn Dogs prominently, giving it more flourish. It was on to another mega-’60s-hit, “Red Red Wine,” with Diamond ordering everyone onto their feet, awash in red floodlights.
A high point of the set was the usually sleepy “Brooklyn Roads,” prefaced with Diamond sharing reminiscences and family 8mm movies: images of Diamond as a baby, and hunky young man (circa 1960) brought forth oohs and ahs. It was on to even more sentimental “Shilo,” another Brooklyn-era ballad. Two from “Melody Road” were snuck in, including the gorgeous “Art of Love.” “It took me five years to write this song and we will do it in three minutes,” he said. Several, sadly, not hearing more-familiar material took a beverage/bathroom break.
“Cherry Cherry” and “Holly Holy” received similar, resplendent treatment, beginning with Diamond solo on acoustic guitar and then a building-up of band parts. And, as is Diamond tradition, the song most beloved, “Sweet Caroline,” was a giant sing-along. “Everyone take a big breath,” Diamond suggested – it was great fun, replete with all the requisite hand gestures and “bum-bum-bums.”
Among the throng was Caroline Ventresca, of Hamburg, having a huge night. “I’m Caroline,” she said. Her mother had just informed her, as she was driving to the Neil Diamond concert, that she was named for “Sweet Caroline.” “I just found this out,” she said incredulously, “I thought I was named for Princess Caroline.”
Tuesday night in the First Niagara Center