Tuesday, 12 April 2011

Neil Diamond: a 24-carat gem

My friend Amanda and I didn’t think we’d find an ‘old rockers’ experience to match Smokie, who we saw at Grand West in 2008 – but then, how were we to know that the incomparable Neil Diamond would, at age 71, embark on a World Tour that included Cape Town?

I was in no rush to book our seats – I am, after all, regularly sneered at by my friends for my devotion to The Solitary Man, and didn’t for a minute think I’d have to hustle to secure our places when 36 000 tickets were up for grabs. So when, a week later, a news report told me that they were almost sold out, I rushed to my nearest Computicket – and, indeed, there were only a few seats left, dotted here and there about the stadium.

It was the biggest seated concert ever staged in the Western Cape – and yeah, yeah, you can laugh all you like about the fact that there was no standing room other than for those with Zimmer frames, but you’ve got to hand it to him: the silky-voiced septuagenarian played an energetic two-hour concert to a stadium packed with screaming fans.

Politely screaming fans, that is: the audience was (as Amanda noted, and included herself and me) largely fair, fat and forty – white and middle-aged. And because – let’s face it – Neil was never a renegade rocker, everyone there was incredibly well-behaved. There was a total absence of drunken delirium or drugged-up hysteria; rather, we all sang and swayed and clapped politely, and the only breach of civility was in the occasional wolf-whistle and heart-felt shouts of ‘Neil, we love you!’

And the crowd goes (mildly) mad: Neil sings 'Sweet Caroline'.

Neil himself led this low-key charge: his on-stage presence was – given that he was playing to tens of thousands – almost intimate; he spoke directly to his audience in a laid-back way that made it feel as if he were playing down at his local pub (with, admittedly, a very large and accomplished backing band). After singing one of his love ballads, he remarked, ‘I’m watching you guys, and I can see that the men and the women here react differently to my songs. The women listen carefully to the lyrics; the men stare up at the spotlights, and I can see them thinking, I wonder how they make them work?

But he was playing to a stadium of 36 000 people, and here, perhaps, was the only drawback – in our R550 seats, Neil was so far away that he looked like an ant. And for people of a certain age (as we, and most of his audience, are), this isn’t ideal. It took a lot of eye-squinting to make him out waaaaay down there on the stage, and eventually it made more sense just to watch the twin big screens to get the measure of the man. Which begs the question: wouldn’t it be more comfortable (and much cheaper) to watch one of his live concerts on DVD?

I suppose it’s not just about ‘seeing’ the man live (even if it is from half a kilometre away), it’s the whole bang-shoot – the hype and build-up, the getting to the concert and going home afterwards, the sharing of the experience with so many like-minded people*, and of course the truly fabulous sound. Cape Town Stadium’s acoustics are brilliant, and hearing Neil sing was a once-in-a-lifetime deal – especially since he sounds exactly the same live as he does on his records, even those recorded 50 years ago.

* Not everyone, of course, is as big a fan of Neil’s as the 36 000 people gathered there last night. The man sitting behind us asked the woman next to him, ‘So why isn’t John here?’ And she replied, ‘Because he said he’d rather stay at home and stick pins in his eyes than go to a Neil Diamond concert.’

A word about our beautiful city

I lived in Cape Town for 20 years before I moved to Riebeek Kasteel, and I always thought it an exceptionally beautiful city – but the improvements that were implemented for last year’s World Cup have transformed it into a real gem.

Cape Town Stadium is simply mind-blowing – not only is it monumentally gorgeous, it’s so cleverly designed that even a huge press of people can move in and out of it without any of the queuing, pushing and shoving that usually marks human movement on a grand scale.

The old Greenpoint traffic circle, now elevated on elegant concrete plinths above a pedestrian walkway, is a wonder of modern engineering and materials.

And walking back through the Waterfront towards the CBD after the concert was an adventure in itself – every building we passed was a little artwork in its own right, and the way everything has been designed to cater for pedestrians (including, all along the route, traffic marshalls with lights who stopped vehicles to allow people to cross roads on foot) is just so impressive.

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Claudine said...

WTG Neil Diamond! Gosh, is he 71 already?

OSlOlSO said...

Very nice article :) Although Neil is not someone I would go and watch - it's true that the WHOLE experience add the the greatness of seeing your favourite artists in ant-size form ;)

megan said...

I love this post! I wanted to be there, suddenly couldn't afford the tickets, and I am jealous of the whole experience. Also white, fat and forty (six).