On his 50th anniversary tour, Neil Diamond has got this arena pop-concert thing down.
After nearly as long, so does James Taylor — and Bonnie Raitt, for that matter.
The three serenaded white folks from the AARP set (surprisingly, there was a smattering of younger fans, born well after these stars’ heydays, as well) in the Bay Area, playing old, familiar favorites.
Taylor (with opener Raitt, in a too short set), took to the stage on a brisk Saturday night at AT&T Park, on his baseball stadium tour, in fine voice. Accompanying himself on acoustic guitar, he checked off all the hits, from the opening “Carolina In My Mind” and “Country Road” to the happy, upbeat “Shower The People,” “How Sweet It Is To Be Loved By You” and “Your Smiling Face.”
There were no tricks (“I don’t have a persona,” an audio clip stated), just straightforward renditions.
He performed “Something In The Way She Moves,” the tune he played for George Harrison and Paul McCartney, which led to his first record deal, and the smooth jazzy “Never Die Young” from what he called “the middle distant” period.
From the stadium seats, it was difficult to see Taylor’s busy video show, except on the bluesy “Steamroller,” which was backed by cool vintage film of railroads and trains. He said it was a song that has little meaning to him.
It was a contrast to his quintessential tender songs: “Don’t Let Me Be Lonely Tonight,” “Fire and Rain, “You’ve Got a Friend” and, in a lovely duet with the harmonizing Raitt, “You Can Close Your Eyes.”
They rocked out on the great “Thing Called Love” at the close of Raitt’s set, which included nice versions of “Nick of Time” (featuring excellent co-vocals by soulful Arnold McCuller), “Something to Talk About,” “Angel From Montgomery” and, for true fans who wanted to hear Raitt tunes, odd covers of INX’S “Need You Tonight” and Talking Heads’ “Burning Down the House.”
Appropriately attired in a down vest (which she took off for a song or two), Raitt thanked the hometown crowd and reveled at playing such a huge venue — especially during the Summer of Love anniversary.
Sadly, the sound system wasn’t up to 21st century standards, as an echo pervaded throughout the show, leaving some less than 100 percent satisfied.
On Sunday night at SAP Center in San Jose, Diamond’s voice came through clearly (“just like on the records,” said one fan) on his incredible hits.
Backed by an 11-piece band and two vocalists, he kicked off with 1966’s “Cherry, Cherry,” ended with 1980’s “America,” and drew seniors to their feet on “Song Sung Blue,” “Red Red Wine,” “I’m A Believer,” “Cracklin’ Rosie” and, of course, “Sweet Caroline,” complete with fist-pumps from the whole crowd on the chorus’ infectious “bum, bum, bum.”
The schmaltzy ballads sounded great: “Play Me” was remarkably intimate for the stadium setting, and the duet “You Don’t Bring Me Flowers” featured saxophone soloist Larry Klimas rather than his “good pal” Barbra Streisand.
“If You Know What I Mean” got an excellent dramatic treatment, crescendoing in a way that only a 1970s pop tune can.
A lesser known song called “Brooklyn Road” from the ‘60s was backed by adorable home movies of Diamond as a child, with his family.
He told the fun story of how, 40 years ago, his guitarist Richard Bennett called him to his hotel room across the hall to hear a riff he was excited about. It became “Forever in Blue Jeans.”
A lull came during numbers from “Jonathan Livingston Seagull” (a phenomenon thankfully mostly forgotten), which could have been replaced by “Shilo,” “Longfellow Serenade” or “Brother Love’s Traveling Salvation Show” — hits that woefully didn’t make the two-hour concert’s set list.
At times, Diamond looked his 76 years; he’s no prancing Mick Jagger tearing up the stage.
Yet the consummate pro thanked his fans often and said, “I have the single greatest job in the world; I pour my heart out, the audience gives everything back.”
Like Taylor and Raitt did before him, Diamond refreshingly never once asked folks in the crowd if they were having a good time — a cheap ploy for applause used by most young pop stars.
These show biz vets — true artists — knew they were.