July 16, 2017
Last night was a pretty epic event in the history of entertainment. That's right: the seventh-season premiere of Game of Thrones. Will Daenerys Targaryen seize the Iron Throne from Cersei Lannister? Can Jon Snow alert the rest of Westeros to the dangers beyond the Wall? And will this be the year we finally see #CleganeBowl?
Of course, I can't apprise you of any relevant details from the latest episode, because I was attending Neil Diamond's 50-Year Anniversary World Tour. Do I have regrets? Not really. We live in the age of DVRs, and HBO gained notoriety for endlessly replaying its programming back when Beastmaster was still a "new release." Meanwhile, Diamond is completing what may very well be the final major tour of his impressive career.
And on top of that, I promised my mother I'd take her.
But it does give one pause. How would Neil fare, were he to find himself thrust into the intrigues of the Seven Kingdoms? Bards don't end up doing so well, if Marillion is any example. Diamond's songs are mostly about the positivity of romantic love (or sex), however, so his alternative, fictional career might have been just as successful in that era as now.
And that success can't really be argued. Five decades and 135 million albums later (certified sales put him between the Backstreet Boys and Prince), Diamond is above such facile equivalencies.
The show kicked off much like his last one here (in 2015), with the announcer helpfully reminding us the lights would dim abruptly and that smoking is not permitted (the last apparently in deference to those who haven't seen Diamond since Hot August Night). Diamond emerged, fittingly once again, from beneath a giant projected diamond and opened with "Cherry, Cherry," Diamond's first big hit (from 1966), followed by "You Got to Me," an intermittently performed cut from Diamond's second album, Just for You.
From there, it was a boffo career retrospective, ranging from his 1966 debut, the Kirk Van Houten-esque The Feel of Neil Diamond ("Cherry, Cherry," "Solitary Man"), to 2005's Home Before Dark ("Pretty Amazing Grace"). The 76-year-old crooner's voice is still as powerful as ever, though he may have benefited from a pretty low mix for his longtime backing band (who are pretty upbeat for a bunch of dudes forced to wear purple every night).
And for a guy nearing the end of his eighth decade, he was pretty spry, grabbing a handy acoustic guitar for a few tunes (show closer "America" being one) and only briefly taking a leaner during "Jazz Time," his band's solo showcase. And unlike some recent heavily scripted acts that have recently come through, Diamond made special mention of Oak Island, the Chambers County community obliterated by Hurricane Ike in 2008, dedicating "He Ain't Heavy, He's My Brother" to their recovery. "Dry Your Eyes" (from 1976's Beautiful Noise) was also offered to the memory of the victims of the "senseless" attacks in Manchester and London.
Of course, in any career as venerable as Diamond's, they're not all going to be gems. I'd somehow managed to go 40 years without realizing he did the soundtrack for the atrocious Jonathan Livingston Seagull adaptation (and won a freaking Grammy for it!). That is, until he trotted out three (!, again) cuts last night ("Be," "Lonely Looking Sky," "Skybird").
We also need to talk about "Done Too Soon," Diamond's ode to mortality that invokes such names as Lincoln assassin John Wilkes Booth, kidnapper and rapist Caryl Chessman, and Ho Chi Minh. How exactly were these folks "done too soon" (Ho Chi Minh was older than Diamond when he died)? Does Diamond have some academic dissertation in which he thinks Booth should have stuck around to kill Andrew Johnson? I'm intrigued.
And I realized Diamond talks about the same Brooklyn mean-streets upbringing as his contemporary, Barry Manilow ("Jungletime," "Brooklyn Roads"). Did he and Manilow know each other growing up? Is there a rivalry? Why have we never seen them together?
So many questions, and unfortunately ones that may have to wait another 50 years to be answered. Diamond closed out with a crowd-pleasing trifecta of "Sweet Caroline" (dragged out for the benefit of the people in the "rafters"), "Cracklin' Rosie" and "America." The last provided a stirring tribute to Diamond's — and most of our — immigrant past. I trust no one singing lustily along voted for Trump.
Personal Bias: I'm now very intrigued by the Manilow thing.
The Crowd: Well-to-do and pretty damn energetic considering they had dinner at 4 p.m.
Overheard In the Crowd: "Doesn't he usually come out on time?"
"Maybe they're having trouble opening the coffin."
Random Notebook Dump: You can do Axl Rose's serpentine dance to "Sweet Caroline." Don't ask me how I know this.
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And now, without further ado, your Game of Thrones-inspired set list (where applicable).
Cersei Cersei (Cherry Cherry)
You GOT to Me (You Got to Me)
Solitary Mance (Solitary Man)
Lysa on the Rocks (Love on the Rocks)
Flay Me (Play Me)
Song Sung Bronn (Song Sung Blue)
Beautiful Noye (Beautiful Noise)
Bye Your Eyes (feat. Oberyn Martell) (Dry Your Eyes)
If You Know What I Mean
Forever in Braavos (Forever in Blue Jeans)
You Don't Bring Me the Knight of Flowers (You Don't Bring Me Flowers)
Red Red Wedding (Red Red Wine)
I'm a Believer (Tribute to the High Sparrow)
Blackwater Roads (Brooklyn Roads)
Pretty Aquatic Gendry (Pretty Amazing Grace)
Be (I got nothing for the JLS songs)
Lonely Looking Sky
Jazz Time (Band intros)
Crunchy Granola Suite
Done Too Soon
Holly Hodor (Holly Holy)
I Am No One...I Said (I Am...I said)
Sweet Sandor Clegane (Sweet Caroline)
Cracklin' Shireen (Cracklin' Rosie)