For sure, it was just a coincidence. Don’t cha think?
On Wednesday at St. Paul’s Xcel Energy Center, Neil Diamond, 76, brought his 50th anniversary concert tour to Bob Dylan’s home state on what was Dylan’s 76th birthday. And it was 50 years ago that Diamond made his Minnesota debut in — where else? — Duluth, where Dylan was born.
Diamond and Dylan don’t often get mentioned in the same sentence even though their names and songs are certainly familiar to music lovers round the world.
Both Rock Hall of Famers now have distinctively gravelly voices, for better or worse. Both still tour and record. But otherwise they have about as much in common as their best known records from 1966 — Dylan’s landmark and hugely influential album “Blonde on Blonde” and Diamond’s cheesy “Cherry Cherry,” the second song on Wednesday’s set list.
Diamond was in good voice: strong, clear, passionate with very little shouting and oversinging. His voice was as impressive this time as it was two years ago at X, one of the best of his 40-some shows in Minnesota.
But his energy and spirit were lacking. The Bruce Springsteen for the easy-listening set manifested no physicality on Wednesday. And that was a Twin Cities first for the veteran arena crowd-pleaser.
Take it from Marlee Ruane, 86, of Bloomington, who has seen every Diamond concert in the metro since 1972.
“He was barely moving, on his tip toes,” she observed. “He’s so different from two years ago. So skinny. That shirt is hanging on him.”
Yes, Mr. Forever in Skinny Jeans moved gingerly, as if he’d suddenly aged or was suffering from an injury that impinged movement. Moreover, his face broadcast a Dylanesque perma-pout.
Diamond was grimacing as he roared through the festive “Soolaimon.” He looked catatonic on 2008’s “Pretty Amazing Grace,” a happy song about late-in-life love.
During “Beautiful Noise,” he delivered the line “it makes me feel good” with a pained visage. On “I’m a Believer” (the smash he wrote for Monkees in ’67), he growled “I’m in love” with a scowl. Hard to believe that line.
Diamond summoned the passion on “Holly Holy,” which brought the 18,000 fans to their feet.
He got them to sing along to “Sweet Caroline,” the karaoke classic during which he sounded a bit froggy and lacked his usual oomph. But he did manage to finally crack a smile at song’s end.
While “Caroline” may have been a crowd favorite, the highlights in the two-hour show were when the carefully choreographed entertainer went off script. Five songs into the night, he announced that the concert was dedicated to the people of Manchester, England, without mentioning the tragic killings at Ariana Grande’s concert there. Then he delivered “Dry Your Eyes,” which was cast as a slowed-down Irish march.
Also outstanding was “You Don’t Bring Me Flowers,” during which Diamond cannily substituted Larry Klimas’ evocative saxophone for the lines that Barbra Streisand sings on the recorded version. That arrangement changed the texture but not the emotion.
There were some dubious choices in the set list including the 1976 album track “Jungle Time,” which suggested Steve Miller trying to be Bruce Springsteen. There were countless Diamond gems — “Kentucky Woman,” “Shilo,” “Hello Again” among others — that fans might have preferred. But Diamond, like Dylan, has just too many memorable songs in his repertoire.