Neil Diamond is nothing if not direct. He opened and closed last night's sold-out Capital Centre concert with the patriotic bombast of his "America," complete with flash-pots and the unfurling of a giant American flag. But for the 2 1/2 hours in between, Diamond had no need to fall back on anything but his considerable charisma and a song-bag of "beautiful noise" that is as deep as it is familiar.

There are two distinct dimensions to Diamond's singing; the raw, growling edge he brings to the harder, up-tempo tunes like "Cherry, Cherry," "Holly Holy," "Cracklin' Rosie" and "Hot August Nights," versus the smooth control exhibited on such classic, bittersweet ballads as "You Don't Bring Me Flowers," "Love on the Rocks" and "I Am, I Said." Sometimes, the singing fell between the cracks, as on the anthemic and upbeat "Forever in Blue Jeans" and "Song Sung Blue," for which Diamond had 20,000 delirious fans up and clapping, singing and swaying to the utterly infectious melody.

At one point, Diamond threatened to sing "all" of yesterday's songs (that got cheers), but one previewed from a forthcoming album seems cut from a familiar mold. The unabashedly sentimental, old-fashioned gentility of Diamond's music may explain why he's most moving on material that isolates his aching baritone and leaves it clear and uncluttered, even on songs as maudlin as "Hello, Again" and "Songs of Love." A four-times-revived "Dancing in the Street" (or in the seats, as it were) was kinetic but took away time better devoted to Diamond's own material. Still, like the hard-working preacher in "Brother Love's Travellin' Salvation Show," Neil Diamond had the believers in the psalm of his hand. Diamond Appears again Tonight.