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Neil Diamond thrills Las Vegas Strip crowd in surprise show

Updated March 9, 2020 - 10:02 am

Health scares and political divisions took the night off Saturday at MGM Grand Garden. We can thank Neil Diamond for that.

The rock and pop legend was in top form in a stunning, unbilled (but not entirely unexpected) seven-song set of “Cracklin’ Rosie,” “Hello Again,” “Forever in Blue Jeans,” Love on the Rocks,” “I Am … I Said,” “September Morn” and — in what has become the mandatory Diamond selection — “Sweet Caroline.”

The medley thrilled a crowd of of 1,500 VIP attendees at the 24th annual Keep Memory Alive Power of Love gala, the benefit event for the Lou Ruvo Center for Brain Health, Cleveland Clinic. The crowd of dignitaries was up, dancing, shouting and in many cases crying at Diamond’s performance.

One attendee who had worked to the edge of the stage shouted, “This is the greatest night of my life!” Another called out, “He is crushing it!”

For “Sweet Caroline,” Diamond was joined by the night’s lineup of performers and presenters, including Sammy Hagar, Chris Isaak, Kenny “Babyface” Edmonds, Billy Ray Cyrus and Katlyn Nichol. Diamond threw his fist skyward as the crowd shouted the refrain, “So good! So good! So good!”

Diamond was joined as the night’s honoree by Sheldon and Dr. Miriam Adelson, recipients of the Keep Memory Alive Community Leadership award in honor of the couple’s philanthropic endeavors and contributions to medical research, education and many Jewish causes and organizations. The couple were honored from the stage and during a video tribute, with Miriam Adelson accepting the award.

The entertainment segment is an annual highlight at Power of Love, and Diamond’s set might have topped that all-time list, given his time away from the stage and history in Las Vegas. It was the 79-year-old’s superstar’s first public performance since Aug. 12, 2017, at The Forum in Inglewood, California. He hadn’t headlined in Las Vegas since May 17, 2015, at Mandalay Bay Events Center.

In January 2018, Diamond announced he was retiring from live performances after being diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease. Saturday’s performance might well have been his final live appearance.

Diamond showed little rust, moving easily, playing to the entire room while dressed in all black with a leather jacket.

All of the assembled stars covered songs Diamond either performed or has written: Cyrus with “I’m a Believer,” the song he gave to the Monkees that was a monster hit in 1967; Isaak with “Solitary Man”; Edmonds and Nichols with “You Don’t Bring Me Flowers”; and Hagar with a blazing “Thank the Lord for the Night Time.” Kelsey Grammer introduced Hagar, and dance great Derek Hough brought on Edmonds and Nichols.

Prior to his time onstage, Diamond remembered his debut in Las Vegas at the Aladdin Theatre for the Performing Arts, now Zappos Theater. He was the venue’s first headliner on July 2, 1976, helping celebrate America’s bicentennial weekend.

“Well, they threw open the doors and welcomed me in,” Diamond said. “It was an unusual setup for the performance. The building is still there. There were 5 or 6,000 people, as opposed to the more intimate club kind of thing. I had a great time.”

Diamond said he’s recording an album this year, including a collaboration with Stevie Wonder on a song Diamond says he wrote “a while ago.”

“It’s just great to be with him,” Diamond said, adding that the album is almost finished and due this year. “It’s me for the most part. I’ll have to fill up the space as much as I can, and try to do something beautiful.”

The evening was set up for the night’s entertainment honoree to deliver more greatness, as Jimmy Kimmel and event co-founder Larry Ruvo introduced the superstar. Kimmel, attending his first Power of Love event, said from the stage, “I love Las Vegas, and I love Neil Diamond. Not only do I love Neil, but my parents love him, my friends love him, my children love him. Neil Diamond is an amazing songwriter and singer, and I think you will agree that no Jewish man looks better in sequins than Neil Diamond.”

Ruvo presented Diamond with a proclamation from Las Vegas Mayor Carolyn Goodman making March 7, 2020, Neil Diamond Day in Las Vegas. Kimmel said, “Hey, Neil. It’s Neil Diamond Day.” Diamond joked back at the late-night talk-show host, “Who gives a (expletive)?”

Ruvo then said, “I know everybody, including Neil Diamond, wants to hear Neil Diamond sing.” Ruvo had also teased to Diamond’s performance on Friday night when he said, “Neil Diamond will not sing one song tomorrow night.”

Diamond broke out “Cracklin’ Rosie” to open his medley, and ramped up the energy as the 30-minute set progressed. He was clearly invigorated by the performance, shouting some of the lyrics in “I Am … I Said.”

The music seemed therapeutic, in real time, during Diamond’s performance.

Greg Phillinganes, the superstar keyboardist and music director brought on to back Diamond, put it best after the show. Phillinganes is a deeply respected and experienced artist who has worked withWonder, Michael Jackson, Eric Clapton and Bruno Mars, among many other superstars.

Asked about Diamond’s performance, Phillinganes just shook his head and said, “I’m speechless.”

The Review-Journal is owned by the family of Sheldon Adelson and Dr. Miriam Adelson.\

John Katsilometes’ column runs daily in the A section. His PodKats podcast can be found at reviewjournal.com/podcasts. Contact him at jkatsilometes@reviewjournal.com. Follow @johnnykats on Twitter, @JohnnyKats1 on Instagram.

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