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Neil Diamond: Hot August Night NYC Live from Madison Square Garden(2008)
Recorded live at New York's Madison Square Garden in August, 2008, the Blu-ray includes the entire show from beginning to end and feature 25 career-spanning hits from Neil's phenomenal four-night sold-out run at the fabled concert hall. Also includes the exclusive bonus feature "Welcome Home Neil," a behind-the-scenes look at Diamond's pilgrimage to his childhood home in Brooklyn.
For more about Neil Diamond: Hot August Night NYC Live from Madison Square Garden and the Neil Diamond: Hot August Night NYC Live from Madison Square Garden Blu-ray release, see the Neil Diamond: Hot August Night NYC Live from Madison Square Garden Blu-ray Review
Neil Diamond: Hot August Night NYC Live from Madison Square Garden Blu-ray Review
Neil Diamond recreates one of his most iconic performances (and albums) in this 2008 concert filmed in New York City.
Reviewed by Jeffrey Kauffman, April 12, 2010
The history of popular music in America in the 20th century is an interesting study in the power structure of who gets the publicity, and the pay, for writing and playing the music. The early decades were ruled by sheet music in the pre-radio days, and so publishers routinely raked in the cash while the writers were left to wonder where their money was. In fact that's one of the reasons Irving Berlin was hailed as a business genius on top of being a compositional one: he was smart enough to retain the publishing rights to his own catalogue, ensuring that the bucks continued to roll in to him and not some middleman with a printing press. As radio began to become more popular, singers and instrumentalists took center stage, and they just as often as not, at least in the singing category, had little to nothing to do with writing and arranging the songs they performed. That changed slightly in the Big Band era, when such stalwarts as Benny Goodman, Glenn Miller and Tommy Dorsey often wrote and arranged the charts their groups performed. They of course also delighted audiences with their cover versions of songs written by other artists, something that really took off in the post-World War II era with the popular singer format that ruled the 1950's. That trend tended to continue in the early days of rock 'n' roll when such writers as the Brill Building regulars provided hit after hit for the reigning pop stars of the day. That's also the reason so much music from the late 1950's through 1962 or so has a certain sameness.
Then something interesting started happening. Groups like The Beach Boys and The Beatles started writing their own material, and then suddenly, seemingly out of nowhere, the singer-songwriter era burst upon the scene. Neil Diamond, strangely enough, is rarely thought of as a member of this club, though he routinely wrote most of his hits, starting with his first one, "Solitary Man," from 1966. And of course he had penned hits for such groups as The Monkees before he personally hit the big time as an artist on his own. Despite having been himself a member of the Brill Building writing staff and providing hits for everyone from Elvis Presley to Lulu, and then going on to a considerably successful solo career, he's often thought of as a sort of Las Vegas lounge lizard sort of singer, with no serious musical chops to back up the glitz and glamour. Diamond is certainly not a composer, or even a lyricist, of incredible profundity, despite his halting attempts to mine existential questions in such tunes as "I Am…I Said." He is instead an often compelling writer who is able to translate everyday emotions into an instantly accessible musical vocabulary that has made him one of the all time top selling artists in that often derided format once labeled Easy Listening, but now euphemized into the slightly less objectionable Adult Contemporary moniker.
For all of his perhaps unearned lounge lizard reputation, the fact is Diamond comes off in this nice concert as, to borrow a phrase from his own Jewish tradition, a mensch, that is a regular guy, the sort of buddy you wouldn't mind hanging out with and sharing a beer and a game of pool. Diamond seems remarkably unaffected by his superstardom and is obviously delighted to be performing before such a rapt and adoring crowd. If his success has brought him rhinestone encrusted shirts and pants, it doesn't seem to have diminished his own surprise at that very same success, something that he communicates to the audience in this high spirited concert.
Diamond is almost 70 now, as incredible as that may seem, and that means his voice is a bit more rugged and less mellifluous than it once was. Of course Diamond was never really a knockout singer to begin with, and managed to carve a hugely lucrative career out of his talents anyway. What he lacks vocally, he more than makes up for in an assured and surprisingly nonchalant performance, easily drawing the audience into his own lyrical images and melodically evocative worlds. He's backed by a crackerjack band including a brass contingent and great backup vocalists. The concert is also very well filmed for the most part, with lots of tracking and dollying shots to help create visual variety. There are one or two instances of bad focus pulling as the cameras move, but they're not too distracting.
Working his way through his decades of material, Diamond does a good job blending his biggest hits with fondly remembered, if lesser selling, tunes. He also occasionally takes time to introduce various pieces, but this is a concert largely about music, and hardly at all about stagecraft, in almost direct opposition to the Madonna Sticky and Sweet concert video I just reviewed for Blu-ray.com. In fact, it's interesting to see these diametrically opposed approaches toward a concert experience. Madonna is all flash and style, with frankly not much substance. One might argue about the actual depth of Diamond's lyrics and music, but the fact is this concert is pretty much all about delivering his well known and well loved songs to his public, with a minimal amount of distractions along for the ride.
Neil's performance in this concert includes these songs:
Love on the Rocks
Thank the Lord for the Night Time
Home Before Dark
Don't Go There
Pretty Amazing Grace
Crunchy Granola Suite
Done Too Soon
I Am. . .I Said
Forever in Blue Jeans
Sweet Caroline (Reprise)
You Don't Bring Me Flowers
Song Sung Blue
I'm a Believer
Man of God
Brother Love's Traveling Salvation Show
Neil Diamond: Hot August Night NYC Live from Madison Square Garden Blu-ray, Video Quality
Hot August Night/NYC benefits from a largely crisp AVC encoded image delivered in full 1080p in a 1.78:1 aspect ratio. This is a great looking live concert, bathed in nicely full blue light a lot of the time. What may bother some videophiles is the lack of really brilliant color erupting from the screen. Diamond is clad in black, albeit spangled, and his backup singers are similarly dressed. While the band has at least a little variety of palette going for it, largely purple, there's simply not a lot here to wow an ardent videophile. But what is here is a completely solid and great looking effort. Detail is exceptional, and depth of field can also be pretty amazing at times, with people in the audience far in the background completely visible with Neil up front. Though muted, the palette here is very lifelike and has a nice, if subtle, variety to it. If you're looking for two hours of knock your socks off visuals, this concert isn't it. If you're looking for a nicely accurate recreation of what the original concert looked like, this does a remarkably good job.
Neil Diamond: Hot August Night NYC Live from Madison Square Garden Blu-ray, Audio Quality
Two excellent sound mixes are included, a Dolby True HD 5.1 and a standard LPCM 2.0 fold down. Both of these sounded great, with crisp fidelity and excellent range. Diamond's gravelly voice cuts through clearly and all the lyrics are easily heard. The 5.1 mix places the band nicely directionally, with Diamond typically front and center. Therefore you will at times clearly hear the brass emanating from the left channel and the backup singers from the right. Balance over all is quite good, though occasionally I personally wish the brass had been pumped a bit higher in the mix. The backup vocals also occasionally disappear into the overall sound mass, but are on the whole more easily heard than some of the instruments at times. Diamond, however, despite his advancing age, sounds remarkably nimble for a soon to be septuagenarian, and these two tracks admirably capture his verve and energy throughout this live performance.
Neil Diamond: Hot August Night NYC Live from Madison Square Garden Blu-ray, Special Features and Extras
Welcome Home, Neil (23:01) is an unusually touching featurette documenting Diamond's return to his boyhood Brooklyn neighborhood. This offers soundmixes in both LPCM 2.0 and standard Dolby Digital 2.0, as well as subtitles.
Neil Diamond: Hot August Night NYC Live from Madison Square Garden Blu-ray, Overall Score and Recommendation
Neil Diamond is a well loved, but somehow still largely underappreciated, writer and performer. His legion of fans already know how energetic he can be in a live performance setting, and now with this excellent Hot August Night/NYC Blu-ray, the rest of the world can appreciate that energy as well.
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