It's not surprising that Neil Diamond's most bravura performance is still "Brother Love's Traveling Salvation Show" -- it's the one time he has the perfect vehicle for whipping his Capital Centre audience into a pentecostal frenzy.
In fact, "Brother Love" was born out of the adulation Diamond enjoyed in the long-ago days of black leather and hot August nights. Though it sometimes seems he has come a long and saccharin way from those harddriving rock and roll years, those nights still burn when he hears the crowd screaming. At that -- short of Billy Graham -- Diamond might be the only person who could get more than 20,000 people on their feet with their hands in the air clapping and singing.
In the '60s, grinding out hit after Top-40 hit in a kind of rock Tin Pan Alley, Diamond crafted some of the finest gems in the rock and roll catalog: "Solitary Man," "Cherry, Cherry" and possibly his finest, "He Ain't Heavy, He's My Brother." Even his flawed songs were sometimes stunning -- like the poignant "I Am, I Said."
Somewhere along the way he fell into the trap of believing he should be writing meaningful songs -- the sound track to "Jonathan Livingston Seagull" and "Beautiful Noise." As if he secretly recognizes their inferiority he treates these later works with a Las-Vegas slickness that suits them rather than the get-down boogy that overtakes him in the middle of "Cracklin' Rosie."
It may be that he has gotten back the old magic; in "You Don't Bring Me Flowers Anymore" he has both his first major hit in years and what will probably become one of his most widely recorded compositions.
Diamond appears at the Capital Centre again tonight.