Am . . . I Said: Diamond at the Pepsi Arena. Photo
by Martin Benjamin.
By Erik Hage
Arena, Sept. 21
Neil Diamond is square- shouldered and taller than you think.
At the Pepsi Arena, resplendent in a black shirt with glass
beads, he often walked with his chest thrust out like a bantam
rooster. Curiously, at one point, he was actually laying down
on the stage, his hand draped elegantly over the edge. He
feigned rapture and looked as if he were playing Hamlet at
the Old Vic. He lay there for a pregnant pause—every eye in
the Pepsi Arena upon him. Maybe, reclined in those seconds
of contemplation, his eyes swung up to the nosebleeds, to
the highest packed rafter. Maybe he was thinking about that
furthest person in the furthest row. Then then there was a
sharp intake of breath; Neil breathed in and the whole arena
breathed with him. “Wow,” he said, and the audience exploded.
What landed Neil on his stomach wasn’t the magnitude of the
audience; he’s accustomed to filling venues. (Just last year,
he did two nights at Madison Square Garden.) No, Diamond eventually
reached the prone position while serenading an attractive
blonde woman in the front row, who, as if on cue, stepped
bravely forward and extended her hand as the singer wrapped
his burnished croon around “Girl, You’ll Be a Woman Soon.”
Neil took her hand and collapsed in stages, first on bended
knee. The woman, in black tights, wiggled her butt with joy
toward the audience as Diamond stroked her hair. Then, the
remnants of the fourth wall seemed to collapse altogether
in the closing moments of the song as Diamond leaned down
and laid a long kiss upon her. After the “Wow,” Diamond peered
down at the woman’s date for a second. “Did she come with
you?” he asked. To the affirmative, Neil informed the man
that she was really not with him anymore. The 61-year-old
Diamond is one badass entertainer.
One doesn’t have to size up a Neil Diamond show too long to
figure out why he’s among the limited ranks of singers who
fill ample venues from coast to coast. True, a night with
Diamond walks a tightrope of Vegas schmaltz, religious fervor
and sappiness. But bubbling just under the surface is, well,
sexuality. And not just the middle-age corny kind, as when
a woman down front presented Diamond with a garment, which
he wiped across his sweaty brow and inside the front of his
shirt before returning it. Prior to the show, Pearl Street
seemed to flow with women, from teenagers to middle-age and
older. Women, it seems, love Neil Diamond.
And it’s hard not to be drawn into Diamond’s world. He’s an
unbelievably attentive performer, constantly moving about
the edges of his expansive stage and playing to pockets of
screaming people. But beyond the showier elements is an incredible
assemblage of songs. Diamond is one of pop music’s great composers,
and the glorious tunes seemed to come in waves. One of the
finer sequences emerged when he strapped on an acoustic and
visited his early years with gems such as “Solitary Man,”
“Cherry, Cherry” and “I’m a Believer.” Then there was the
unanimity of celebration during “Sweet Caroline” as the house
lights shone and the audience roared the backing vocals. “Beautiful
Noise,” meanwhile, landed like a revival meeting, the crowd
standing and clapping and Diamond sidestepping, shimmying
and squeezing his fists with ecstasy.
The summit, however, came late in the set, with a triumphant
and burning “I Am . . . I Said” that saw Neil floating about
the stage with outstretched arms and basking in the approval
of his people. And in retrospect, that’s what it amounted
to, a celebration. A celebration of sex, schmaltz and songs.
Like Mosh Spirit
Hatebreed, Six Feet Under, Mastodon, Death
Threat, Bleeding Through
Saratoga Winners, Sept. 20
Man, these hardcore shows are getting longer and longer. Anything
more than six hours and I need vending, dammit, but curses,
I’m foiled again, resigned to eating a stale handful of Mike
& Ike’s that I quite possibly washed in last week’s laundry.
You learn to take the good with the bad.
Similarly, sold-out shows have their ups and downs. The nice
thing is that you can study the indigenous beasts in their
natural habitat, but at the price of having shirtless, sweaty
bruisers rubbing their moist filth directly on you as they
squeeze by toward the general direction of the circle pit.
Saratoga Winners was packed to the roadhouse rafters Friday
night with tattooed heavies and young gazelles with strategic
piercings, who smoked cigarettes and laughed and bounced to
the two-four like it was their last day on earth, unconcerned
about my study or my distaste for questionable personal hygiene.
This particular jaunt, billed as “The Rise of Brutality Tour,”
is indeed brutal for these bands from a scheduling standpoint:
They play their asses off almost every night for months. It’s
awe-inspiring when you see them rage so hard for so long,
knowing that they’re gonna do it again tomorrow.
Unlisted openers Bleeding Through wasted no time in upholding
this ethic with very intentional gothic, synth-infused metal.
Lifting a collective crunch of power chords into something
at once ethereal and curious, they delivered songs that came
across as well- conceived, despite the fact that more and
more bands are experimenting with this sound.
There was nothing experimental about Connecticut’s Death Threat,
who proved to be a pleasant surprise, muscling through with
some absolutely ruinous old-school East Coast hardcore. No
bullshit banter, just wave upon wave of classic, gut-level
music from the streets. I was instantly transported back to
the days of shows at the V.F.W. Post No. 481 on Washington
Avenue in Albany, where a black eye was just as good as a
black boot, or a Black Flag for that matter. Not much else
to say there.
The scraggly denizens of Mastodon then gave us our tech fix
beneath a swirling, pounding dirge. The Rochester band’s good
work had a dynamic, incendiary quality that raised the crowd
up by the shorthairs not only via genital-shrinking guitar
work, but also by the ability to intricately weave haunting
harmonies through such an onslaught.
By then, we were three hours into the bill. One would expect
the collective constitution of the assembled masses to falter,
but that was when the flesh-pecked carrion of yesterday’s
death-metal hierarchy (and I mean that in a good way) roared
back in all its autopsy glory with the inimitable Six Feet
Under. I stood agape whilst former Cannibal Corpse frontman
Chris Barnes shrieked and “oomphed” his way through a blistering
set of tunes about decapitation, drinking blood and bullets
to the brain with his trademark Cookie Monster vocals. I can’t
believe the guy has been doing that to his voice for well
over a decade. The almost military cadence of the drums, mimicked
by rib-rattling basswork, put out the lights on Winners’ gargantuan
chandelier one by one, despite a rather austere lead guitar
that sounded more like a Pterodactyl than a Jackson “V.” Refreshed,
the pit champs morphed into a swollen, breathing pulse of
testosterone that you could almost taste. The jury is still
out on whether that aspect is actually a good thing.
When Hatebreed finally bum-rushed the stage, it was like you
were watching ESPN’s freakin’ X-Games. You cannot deny the
gale-force might of this band. They are flawless and intrinsically
attuned to the precise art of timing and delivery that gets
lads and ladies alike trading punches on the floor. Covering
the entire war-torn terrain of their career, the angst-ridden
rowdies pummeled the people with goodies like “Empty Promises,”
“You’re Never Alone” and the death-dealing “Smash Your Enemies.”
These blokes are the bastard sons of straightedge, but they
thankfully infuse a walloping dose of longhair buckshot to
keep the Hessians happy too.
The elbows flew all the way out the side doors as tireless
leader Jamey Jasta and company, curiously one guitar short
that evening, delivered much of the material from their most
recent CD, Perseverance, consisting predominately of
either stump speeches for positive living (the title track,
for example) or Clockwork Orange-style ultraviolence
(“A Call for Blood”). The only problem I have with this band
is that, regardless of how mighty, how inspirational, how
successful, they still come across as just a wee bit too pissed
off. While I’m sure many will fill my hate-mail bin with spittle-laden
missives in protest, I’m not quite convinced that the proverbial
“walk” has preceded the very stark “talk” in this instance.
Does this matter all that much? Probably not, and to be fair,
they’re only in their junior year. Time will tell if they’re