Neil Diamond Sexes Up Toyota Center

"Every day you get older, now that's a law!" — Butch Cassidy

I've been keenly aware of my own advancing mortality in recent years. And aside from the graying hair, aching joints, and intolerance for young people, the clearest indicator of my looming decrepitude has been the aging of our beloved musicians. Willie Nelson is 82, the Rolling Stones are over 70, and Axl Rose makes more wardrobe changes in concert than Cher.

Neil Diamond's career spans over 50 years. He's 74 now, his ass-shaking Hot August Night period long behind him, but that didn't matter to the adoring (and slightly soggy) masses assembled at the Toyota Center last night. It wasn't a particularly lengthy set, but Diamond made up for that with an enthusiasm that belies his advanced years.

I mean, I've never been at a show where they announced, "The lights will dim abruptly" before. The TC even helpfully brought up the house lights during Diamond's more dance-friendly tunes ("Sweet Caroline," "Beautiful Noise"), evidently to avoid paying off potentially massive numbers of broken hip claims. I think they should be more concerned about dangerous drops in blood pressure, because — and I never realized this before — 90 percent of Neil Diamond sings are about sex.

Certainly one could make the argument *most* songs are about sex, but Diamond's better than most at keeping it subtle, even when ... it's not that subtle, as with "If You Know What I Mean" and "The Art of Love," the sole offering from Diamond's latest, Melody Road. But "Cherry, Cherry?" "Sweet Caroline?" "Shilo?" They're about making the beast with two backs, or in the latter's case, about masturbation.

Diamond opened with "I'm A Believer," which the Monkees rode to undeserving fame back in the LBJ era. Though a bit stiff at the beginning, he earned crowd approval for adding extra emphasis to the "I got rain" line. From there, the two Jazz Singer singles, "Love on the Rocks" and "Hello Again." Unsurprisingly, it was a set heavy on the crowd favorites, light on recent material ("Pretty Amazing Grace" from Home Before Dark among them).

He also discussed flying in to Houston during Monday night's storm. The crowd appreciated him telling them, "Nothing was going to keep me from Houston." My bullshit detectors redlined pretty quickly on that, but we'll let it slide.

Personally, I appreciated the weird touches: the "Universe Song" backdrop (from Monty Python and the Meaning of Life) during "Hello Again," the home movies during "Brooklyn Roads" (observation: Mrs. Diamond could get it) and his little wave to his family during the song. His two backup singers (part of a 14-piece band) also broke out a little rap during "Cherry, Cherry," which I'm guessing is the most hip hop these people have been exposed to outside of McDonald's commercials in their entire lives.

Exhibit B in the case for Diamond as sex machine: his horn section is called the "Hollywood Horndogs."

On a side note, the bar stopped serving at 9:00. Apparently arena policy is to turn off the taps an hour before the show ends. I composed a little lyric in response:

Red red wine
Isn't on sale
Because it's nine o'clock
Time for your milk

"Forever in Blue Jeans" kicked off the greatest hits section, highlighted — I guess — by "Crunch Granola Suite" (the night's first Hot August Night callout) and "Holly Holy." The main set closed with "I Am, I Said," which is apparently not about sex, but rather a frog with dictatorial ambitions.

The encore held few surprises. One of which was the number of people who left during "Sweet Caroline," a song Diamond actually extended for maximum sing-along purposes. Another was the inclusion of "Brother Love's Travelling Salvation Show," with updated sermon verbiage to include gay and straight people. I didn’t hear any boos, so maybe the crowd was more hip than they looked. Or maybe they were overcome with internal conflict when trying to reconcile their anti-immigrant stances with inspiring images of the Statue of Liberty that played during "America."

He closed with "Heartlight." I just looked it up on Wikipedia and realized I went 33 years without realizing this song was about E.T.

Neil Diamond is, as he nears the diamond anniversary of his life, as magnetic and full-voiced as ever. My occasionally snide comments aside, it's getting rarer and rarer to see one of music's few remaining venerable showmen strut his stuff. Love on, loverman.

Personal Bias: My mother played Hot August Night every Saturday for three straight years in the mid-'70s.

The Crowd: In the words of Bob Wiley (What About Bob?): "There are two types of people in this world: Those who like Neil Diamond, and those who don't." Only the former were to be found in the Toyota Center Tuesday night.

Overheard In the Crowd: "This is my 12th Neil show. He was the first concert I ever saw — my mother took me when I was six — and he was my daughter's first concert: I saw him when I was pregnant with her" — The world's most enthusiastic ND fan, who sat directly in front of me.

Random Notebook Dump: "'Love on the Rocks' abbreviated is 'LOTR.' Nerd."

I'm a Believer
Love on the Rocks
Hello Again
Pretty Amazing Grace
Kentucky Woman
You Got to Me
Girl, You'll Be a Woman Soon
Play Me
Red Red Wine
Beautiful Noise
If You Know What I Mean
Brooklyn Roads
The Art of Love
Forever in Blue Jeans
Cherry, Cherry
Crunchy Granola Suite
Holly Holy
I Am ... I Said

Cracklin' Rosie
Sweet Caroline
Brother Love's Travelling Salvation Show

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Peter Vonder Haar writes movie reviews for the Houston Press and the occasional book. The first three novels in the "Clarke & Clarke Mysteries" - Lucky Town, Point Blank, and Empty Sky - are out now.
Contact: Pete Vonder Haar