On Friday April 21st, Neil diamond took the stage at the KFC Yum! Bucket on the Ohio River in Louisville Kentucky at 8:15pm, without an opening act and performed to a packed house for 2 nearly flawless hours.
Packaged as the 50th Anniversary tour, although his first record came out in in 1962 (as the duo "Neil and Jack" with Jack Packer) making it his 55th year in the biz, one would barely realize that the consummate performer was in his 76th year ("Well, it's our 50th year more-or-less.." said Diamond during the performance).
After a brief announcement that Diamond would not have an opening act and would preform without an intermission a large (perhaps 2 stories tall) diamond lit up on stage. As the backing band (complete with 2 guitarists, bassist, drummer, percussionist, chorus, and horn section) began to play the diamond showed clips of American history from every side, and just as the band hit the crescendo the diamond opened up and Neil Diamond walked out to massive applause.
Diamond then walked to the front of the stage, grabbed his iconic black guitar and dove straight into Cherry Cherry, one of his 3 hit songs from the 1966 LP ''The Feel of Neil Diamond." Without a pause he moved straight into Kentucky Woman to large applause, although a build up would have been more appropriate given the location, followed by the 1976 You Got To Me with the full band, horn section, and chorus.
After the runaway flurry of hits, Diamond addresses the audience, saying "It seems we are opening up Derby Week... but just so you know I go wherever the noise is!" And invited the audience to roar in which they did. With gusto.
Throughout the 2 hour set Neil Diamond covered many of his hits throughout his impressive catalog of over 30 albums, including Play Me, Beautiful Noise, Love On The Rocks, and I'm A Believer. The man has fallen in love with a thousand women, and he wrote a song about everyone of them.
Reaching deep, Diamond didn't just play the big hits but deep cuts and b sides for the loyal super fans including the 1976 B-Side Jungletime and Skybird from the 'Jonathan Livingstone Seagull' soundtrack (the first of 2 soundtracks by Diamond to gross more in sales than the film itself).
After 50+ years in the business Diamond can do things his way, even if they are not guaranteed to be crowd favorites, including a curious video homage to the New Zealand All Blacks; rationalizing the moment by saying "Now here is a rugby team that would scare the hell out of their opponents by threatening to eat them alive!"
Despite the occasional odd (yet intentional) moment, the 20,000+ mesmerized audience were treated to an homage to 55 years spent painting a vivid canvas of life in America for the grandchild of Russian and Polish Jewish immigrants.
Towards the end of the evening Diamond treated the crowd to several of his eleven No. 1 hits including Forever in Blue Jeans and You Don't Bring Me Flowers adding "not that long ago I did this duet with Barbara Streisand; But tonight, it being the week after taxes were due, I'll be doing the duet with a trombone.." and the last song before encore was the fantastic introspective I Am I Said.
After several minutes of the audience howling in delight Diamond reappeared and instantly beginning the encore with Sweet Caroline, which has special meaning, aside from being a platinum single for Diamond, it is also the official song for the Boston Red Sox.
Originally played at a Sox game in 1997 (for no reason besides the music director Amy Toby liked it), it became a good luck charm for the team played during the 8th inning. In April 2013, almost exactly 4 years to the day of the Yum! show, Diamond surprised the Red Sox by singing the song live at a game, and donating all future royalties from sales of the song since the Boston marathon bombings to the One Fund Boston charity to help the people most affected by the bombings, and causing sales to skyrocket 600%.
On Friday night at Yum!, at the end of the Sweet Caroline, he said "ok we are coming up on the last chorus, everybody sing!" And when the song ended in massive applause he said, "well ok! Let's do that again!" And the band played the chorus one more time for everybody to sing.
To massive applause again in which at the end Diamond said "what? Oh no, I couldn't possibly.. well ok, but everybody sing!" and we all sang the last chorus a third time.
After that truly unforgettable moment Diamond followed it up with his 1970 no. 1 hit Cracklin' Rosie followed by an emotional introduction to America to the wildest applause of the night. Diamond spoke of his grandparents' dream to come to a land with freedom of religion, free speech, and the freedom to walk out of the house and feel safe (poignant given the current climate of Trump's vision of a isolated America) and adding that we must pass this dream on to others too while drenched in red white and blue stage lights saying 'Thank you America!' with The patented Neil Diamond pose from the cover of The Jazz Singer, with his right hand raised to the sky.
Diamond ended the show with Brother Love's Travelling Salvation Show which during the reprise he addressed the audience saying "Brothers and sisters, black and white, gay and straight, we are all God's children! Thank you Louisville we love you!" We love you too Neil; flawless Diamond.