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 Everett True

Neil Diamond @ Brisbane Entertainment Centre, 23.03.11

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I saw the photograph Darragh used for this week’s Gigs of the Week and … well, I couldn’t let the momentous occasion of Neil Diamond performing live at the Brisbane Entertainment Centre pass unheralded.

5 reasons y Neil Diamond still pwns yr ass
by Everett True, age 49

1. He’s 70. He plays a two-hour set. Second or third song in, he says just about the most brilliant line I’ve ever heard uttered at an arena rock show. “The rules of tonight are very simple. I go where the noise takes me.” Every spare second after, he just has to fake a movement towards a section of the crowd for that section to go berserk trying to hold onto him. “I go where the noise takes me.” Brilliant. Manipulative, honest, brilliant. Fifty years of rock’n’roll stagecraft distilled into seven words. The place is rammed, 11,000 strong. He commands the stage. Absolutely. Uses every inch. He’s 70. Moves like you might not credit. Starts off with a trio of rockers that has me air-punching (inside my head) in delight: ‘Soolaimon’, ‘Beautiful Noise’, ‘Forever In Blue Jeans’. Someone tells me the following day how Neil’s songs would get played back-to-back with early Black Sabbath – equal rock quotient – at 70s hipster parties. I can believe it. He has even more people on stage with him than Belle And Sebastian and, trust me, these people know what the fuck to do. Everyone dances. Everyone smiles. Everyone is sincere when they need to be, frenzied when they need to be. That’s entertainment!

2. He plays five versions of ‘I’m A Believer’. Count them. Five. Three are for the folk in the cheap seats behind the stage, unable to see the big screens, unable to see even the band. He makes a point of playing to them, his back to everyone else, even the screens. Berates the section behind us for “not giving a shit” and then doesn’t make nice. Doesn’t namedrop. Doesn’t need to. Goes into a lengthy tear-jerking introduction about how deeply he feels for the people of Queensland’s loss in the recent floods (all merchandise proceeds donated). Plays a middle section of slow numbers that frankly I can’t abide, but we’re too fascinated with the size of his ears, and the size of the wax in his ears on the monster screens above our heads, to care. And fuck, man. He’s 70. When I saw Grinderman play London a few years back they were taking toilet breaks between songs.

3. Five! Five fucking versions of ‘I’m A Believer’. And the first is deliberately bad. You can feel the giant collective shrug going round the audience as it’s happening: acoustic, different rhythm, drawn-out, serious. Five. Wait. Do you get what I’m saying? Neil is such a consummate showman he’s willing to come out with a bad version of probably his most famous song (OK, one of them) just so he can whip the crowd into a total frenzy when he pulls out the real thing. Does it work? Fuck yeah. The place goes blue rinse crazy. And then – fuck man, how great is this? – he pulls exactly the same trick a few songs later with ‘Sweet Caroline’, with the exact same results.

4. He makes me like ‘You Don’t Bring Me Flowers’. What? How is that even possible? Hell yeah, he does. And he has a great male/female joke, bang on cue, afterwards.

5. When I go to the movies to see a Hollywood blockbuster I want to see a fucking blockbuster, not some lame-ass rom-com or Mel Gibson emoting all over the place or a bunch of Americans who don’t know what to do with their God-given budget. When I go to an arena to see a show, I want to see a fucking show. I want Hot August Night. Not some piss-weak band like Kings Of Leon or New Kids On The Block or Arcade Fire pretending that they’re still playing a 2,000-capacity venue being all intimate and that bull-crap. I want the act to PWN the stage, to PWN the audience, and not by default. Neil Diamond knows how to put on a show. Hell yeah, he does. A spectacle. His name in lights. I could suspend belief the entire time he was on stage, and not even notice.

A Diamond in the smooth.

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