“How great it is,” said Neil Diamond, “to be back in my hometown, the Hollywood Bowl!”
Well, sure: More than any city, really, the stage is the place that shaped this master performer, who at 74 seems more comfortable than he ever has before an audience. On Saturday night, Diamond brought his latest world tour to the Bowl for the second of two concerts, and right away you could tell he was in the zone.
The first order of business? “I’m a Believer,” dispatched with enough casual authority to make you forget that the Monkees ever did the song. Then, just to show he could do a ballad so early in the show, Diamond belted “Love on the Rocks.” After that, he was on to a bit of comedy with jokes about Bowl traffic and Saturday’s crowd, which contained four of his doctors, he said, along with some of his children and grandchildren.
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He also mentioned that there was someone in the house from Periscope, the video-streaming service, though it took him a few tries to remember the name. “Oh, it’s from the Internet,” he said before it came to him. But did that momentary lapse unsettle this veteran showman? As if. Moving ahead, he announced, “It’s time to get it on,” then splashed into “Hello Again.”
For most of the two-hour gig, Diamond’s experienced ease was a pleasure to behold, never more so than when he took to the Bowl’s semicircular catwalk during “Pretty Amazing Grace” and pretended to get lost on his way back to the stage. Delightful too was “Girl, You’ll Be a Woman Soon,” which he addressed to a woman near the front row -- “Not him,” he said in reference to her date -- and finished by admitting that his female fans’ adoration still does wonders for his ego: “It makes me feel like I’m 70 again.”
At a few points, though, Diamond gave glimpses of the less polished performance that might’ve been, as in a disarmingly tender rendition of “Brooklyn Roads,” about the town he called home before he moved to L.A., and especially “The Art of Love,” the only tune he played from his excellent 2014 album, “Melody Road.”
A stark acoustic number filled with frank ruminations on finding romance late in life, “The Art of Love” was apparently inspired by Diamond’s relationship with Katie McNeil, whom the singer married in 2012. You could tell the words meant something to Diamond too as they scrolled across the giant video screen behind him; the moment had some vulnerability to it, as though he were suddenly exposed to the idea of failure.
Yet if he was feeling “The Art of Love,” the now-dead crowd at the Bowl was not, which of course is why he followed the new song with “Forever in Blue Jeans,” then kept the hits coming right on through to the end of the show. Only a churl would object to hearing “Cracklin’ Rosie” and “Holly Holy” and “America,” the last of which was accompanied by images of a bald eagle that appeared to have come from the late 1980s. There was room here for more uncertainty than Diamond revealed.