Neil Diamond at Xcel Energy Center, 7/11/12

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Photo By Stacy Schwartz

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Slideshow: Neil Diamond at Xcel Energy Center

Neil Diamond
Xcel Energy Center, St. Paul
Wednesday, July 11, 2012

With the spate of festival and concert cancellations announced over the last few days (even you, Hoobastank?!), it certainly was nice to have a sure thing to depend on Wednesday night. The tireless, 71-year-old singer/songwriter/showman Neil Diamond thrilled a sold-out Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul, delivering a spirited two-hour set full of chart-topping hits that had fans of all ages singing and dancing along.

There are very few people who are lukewarm about Neil Diamond, you either love him or you don't really care. And everyone who was packed into the X last night was deeply entrenched with the man and his music. Diamond generates so much emotion and enthusiasm through his songs and his stage presence that his devoted fans (men and women alike, young and old) can't help but profess their undying love for the man. And Neil returns that love back to his fans each and every time he takes to the stage.

After two rather tentative opening numbers ("Soolaimon" and "Beautiful Noise") which featured Diamond playing acoustic guitar while supported by his talented but never overbearing 14-piece backing band (featuring a four-piece horn section and three back-up singers), the set caught a spark on a rich, soulful version of "Forever In Blue Jeans," that found Neil strolling all around the stage, making a deeper connection with his audience who were singing the uplifting number right along with him.

Diamond clearly has a long-lasting, fruitful musical relationship with the Twin Cities, as he mentioned early on in the show. "We've played St. Paul since 1971, and we've played Minneapolis since 1970. We're happy to be back. Thank you so much for showing up. We want to earn your loyalty tonight." The crowd roared their approval back to Neil, but the packed arena should have let Diamond know that he earned our loyalty long ago.

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Photo By Stacy Schwartz

The hits just kept on coming throughout the performance, as Diamond, who looked dapper as always in his customary all-black suit, shifted into more somber, but no less passionate material, as a robust, stirring rendition of "Hello Again" was quickly followed up by heartfelt versions of "Love on the Rocks" and "Play Me." A poignant rendition of "Shilo" was Neil's touching ode to youth and the eternal bonds of friendship, and was an early set highlight among many, with Diamond's voice in fine form as it was throughout the entire set.

With most of the older audience settling into their seats after a string of slower numbers, Diamond pleaded, "C'mon, I need you to dance with me now." And the whole arena responded by getting up and dancing away during a zydeco-tinged version of "Red Red Wine," and a bluesy, swinging run through of "You Got To Me." After a smooth, crowd-pleasing rendition of "Girl, You'll Be A Woman Soon," Diamond addressed the ovation. "I react like all human beings -- when I hear people screaming or see people smiling, that's where I go." And indeed, Diamond strutted all around the massive stage, making sure to sing to the thousands of supporters in front of him, to the sides, and also those fans who even packed the area behind the stage.

Neil then picked up his famous black guitar to play along with his band on a cracking version of "Cherry Cherry," which featured a brief solo from each member of his 14-strong group. A bouncy rendition of "Kentucky Woman" kept the energy level high before Diamond slowed things down a bit with a moody, wistful version of "Solitary Man," his first single to achieve moderate success back in 1966, which, along with "Cherry Cherry," found its way onto Diamond's debut album, The Feel Of Neil Diamond.


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