Most musicians would love to be in Neil Diamond’s position, going on tour with around 20 favourite songs that must be played, and very little room for the new stuff. Over two hours he selected three tracks from his latest album, Melody Road, but must have realised that he’s not playing three nights in our biggest venue at 74 on the basis of his ongoing creative genius. Sweet Caroline and Red Red Wine were the hits that got the aching limbs of his fanbase moving, as ever.
In recent years he’s been going for gravitas, working with prestigious producer Rick Rubin on slow-burning albums that emphasised the power of his oak-aged voice and set him up as an icon rather than a shiny showman briefly leaving Las Vegas. Melody Road is slightly more energetic, with the jaunty Something Blue proving a bright-eyed highlight here. But often his 13-piece band sounded meek behind his powerful pipes. This evening’s version of Solitary Man sucked all the energy out of the room like a silica gel packet in a box of trainers, and the crowd were never completely won over, standing and sitting as frequently as a church congregation.
Diamond was in a nostalgic mood, reminding people of his appearance in London on “a show called Top of the Pops” and showing home videos during Brooklyn Roads. He over-egged the extent to which his glitzy life epitomises the American dream, with the Statue of Liberty and a bald eagle filling the diamond-shaped screen while he talked about his Russian grandparents.
This time he seemed dependent on, rather than in control of, the movement in the arena. Song Sung Blue felt like a genuine anthem because the people reacted, whereas Kentucky Woman, earlier on, almost fell on deaf ears.
Without You Don’t Bring Me Flowers there was no opportunity for him to be brought flowers, but otherwise all the familiar favourites were ticked off. A grey beard was a sartorial innovation, but the trousers still sparkled. It was pleasant to see a legend going around the block again, with little to stem the feeling of deja-vu.
July 16, 26, O2 Arena, SE10 (0844 824 4824, the02.co.uk)