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Neil Diamond

Thank You Australia Concert: Live 1976 DVD

Review by Josh Turner

It’s not often I get to sound off on a living legend. The title of this exquisite parcel says it all in a simple disclaimer: “Live 1976. For years he has mesmerized fans. Decades later, the metronome is still ticking with critically-acclaimed music consecrated in his latest album, Home Before Dark.”

As for this inestimable stock, you’re cordially invited with classy packaging and an intuitive menu. It even contains a poster circa ‘76 where Diamond dons long, puffy hair and a puffy shirt with sleeves and collars that flail. Plus, it contains an exclusively rare interview conducted by “A Current Affair” and a behind-the-scenes collage presenting the arena in its preshow stages.

And that only covers the bonus material.

In regards to the event, Diamond doesn’t bore us with overplayed mainstream material. He thaws out a number of his lesser known songs; making this new to all listeners alike.

The opening is otherworldly as it starts with him in his dressing room while a sci-fi rendition of something along the lines of “Rawhide” is looped. When he walks out to the mobius - housing speakers, microphones and fellow minstrels, the ambiance quickly changes.

He mostly croons and strums and doesn’t tell us many stories, but he takes a minute to talk about his hero from age fourteen. That would be Cyrano De Bergerac, because he had a big schnoz, wrote poetry and won over his dream girl. Diamond admits that he was a weird kid too, which is why he can identify with the misfit. This leads into “Longfellow Serenade” and it’s one of the product’s best sequences. Around this time he jokes and warns the people that their streamers could get caught in his guitar strings; causing a sudden end to the whole show.

He also conducts Q&A with the mischievous riffraff. When asked where people are from, one individual yells, “Wisconsin!” Personally, I got a kick out of the odd response as it’s my home state and you could say the concert was a long way from Kansas. Diamond is even cleverer than I in his retort. He says, “You took a wrong turn at New Zealand.” Additionally, it seemed as if Sydney natives greatly outweighed the hordes of others. When asked who was from Melbourne, profuse boos drowned out meager cheers. People actually hissed when he referred to fans across the nation. Facetiously he asks, “Don’t you realize that you’re attached to a nation?” He never misses the opportunity to provide comic relief or enlighten the manic faction.

There were lots of fun, giddy parts. Still, one moment was a standout due to its didactic value. He showed the people how he translated Mozart into “Song Sung Blue”. Then he turned the crowd into the largest choir ever. He had 38,000 strong, moving and grooving to his famous song.

For the record, he must have used up all his rehearsed material as he reprises “Anthem” and “Be” before the exemplary exit.

He gets killer applause but by now he had already reprised two song -- so it was unclear whether or not he’d return. After shortly taking flight, he swiftly jettisons back to quell a hedonistic scene on the verge of a riot. Before disembarking for the long-term, he performs “Brother Love’s Traveling Salvation Show” and “Been This Way Before.” When he finally goes for good, fireworks appropriately soar in the star’s absence.

The credits that roll are truly strange as the corresponding midi is completely out of place in terms of timing and demeanor. Chances are this is what played over coliseum speakers as crowds took and left their seats.

Incidentally, extra concert footage - that hadn’t made it into the cohesive streaming edit – is reachable from the main screen. The section’s featured song is “Morningside” and it does more than adequately use the remaining space. It’s one of the best offerings on the disc.

Returning to the excess list of supplements, there is a photo gallery and commercials for Cadbury and Pioneer. In a funny twist, he mixes up lines prepared for him by public relations. Quickly salvaging the situation, he pokes fun at the dumbed-down directions with lines such as “I didn’t hear you it says here,” “That’s better it says here,” and “It actually tells me what’s going on.” He also makes believe that he’s eating chocolate when the instructions encourage him to take a bite. When he does, he jocundly states, “This is so good” and then explains his behavior with, “When you finish a whole box back at the hotel, you’ve had enough." During the debacle, he also draws attention to statistical mistakes in the klutzily-staged presentation. As the saying goes, there is no bad press and he ends the painstaking sponsorship with a recommendation: “Get good records, because they’ll sound better on the stereo.”

The interview, by the way, had some very intriguing moments too. The broadcaster points out that Neil Diamond has never given an interview – except for occasional press conferences - so it really is rare. Diamond admits that he cannot deal with the enormity of his success and because of that; he doesn’t. He also divulges that the delivery of “Song Sung Blue” is scary because it enters into the unknown. He didn’t know how it would play out using the audience as a choir. When taking on what he considers tense, he thinks of himself as a man who climbs Mount Everest for inspiration and exhilaration. While neither arrogant nor derisive, he’s indifferent to his wealth. He finds that the most valuable item his money can buy is his privacy. He reminds us and the correspondent that most people get that privilege for free. He was never really into materialism and at one time the role of gopher to a gang befell to him. He’d rather sit, think, and listen than play sports, and he doesn’t think of himself as a superstar. Ultimately, he feels the misdirected and envied label is nothing more than a made-up concept.

While Diamond hasn’t lost his touch, he’s always performed at a very high level. Going so far back in time, you’d expect to find a younger version of the artist who is less extroverted and wet behind the ears. This is not at all the case. He’s just as polished in the beginning, and he puts on a tremendous gig in Sydney. While he may have learned a few new tricks along the way, this DVD portrays an enthusiastic young man who is passionate about playing his music live. He had many big hits in the day, and he shares a couple here. We get “Solitary Man” and “Cracklin’ Rose” plus an immaculate rendition of “Sweet Caroline”.

If you’re a fan of Neil Diamond, you won’t be disappointed. If you’re unfamiliar with the artist, you’ve either stepped out of a time machine or you’ve been away from civilization for an unfathomable amount of time. You’d have to be out of the game for many years – decades to be precise - to have missed out on the phenomenon. If this precious jewel is anonymous to you, make it up to yourself by watching this DVD. No matter the kind of listener you are; there is a very good chance you too will appreciate this special overseas event. It’s not often that momentous footage such as this is reincarnated for your television screen.

This review is available in book format (hardcover and paperback) in Music Street Journal: 2008  Volume 5 at lulu.com/strangesound.

 
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