Monday, January 12, 2009

Neil Diamond Concert in the Inland Empire

The Citizens Business Bank Arena is an 11,000-seat multi-purpose arena in Ontario, California. The arena was constructed on Turn 3 of the old Ontario Motor Speedway property. This is a project that I, being a resident of Ontario (residing near the ‘white elephant’ of a convention center), was opposed to. And now Neil Diamond was performing on January 4th in said arena.

While internal conflict is good for a heroine in a writer’s story, its not so good for a writer. Should I order the tickets as a Christmas gift for my husband? What about my principles? I spent three day clicking on the Ticketmaster website before finally doing the deed. When, I rationalized, could attending a Neil Diamond Concert be so easy?

My husband was excited and assured me that even though I had selected tickets on the second level, I did not purchase ‘nose-bleed’ seats. I was only semi-reassured because the tickets had cost me the equivalent of three-weeks’ worth of groceries and the arena map indicated colored section of seats—my seats were located at the edge of oblivion.

Parking was ample and included in the ticket price, the drive to the arena was only minutes from our home. Entrance to the arena was organized and the employees and attendees were polite and excited about the concert. Having never attending a sporting event outside of an academic setting, or a concert in a building designed for any other purpose, I was disconcerted by the ‘bleacher’ type of seating and the arctic bite in the air.

The chairs were padded, but bolted in a proximity that shouted: you better love your neighbor! I’m five-foot-four and wear a size 7 shoe, but the way I was crammed into my seat you would have thought I was Big Bird. This lack of aisle allowance was a hazard whenever you stood to allow another patron to pass, or if you tried to alleviate the cramp manifesting in your calf or thigh.

Once I accepted my lack of comfort, I admitted we had a great view of the stage (complete with two large screens), well-behaved neighbors, and the Dolby sound system that was galactic in size.

Between songs at his concern, Diamond quipped: “I always wanted to play in Ontario, but I had to wait until someone put up a building first!”

The crowd was engaged during the sing-along during Diamond’s "Sweet Caroline''. When it ended, a laughing Diamond methodically surveyed fans of all ages and he launched into the song one more time.

One of the most successful touring acts of the last 40 years, Diamond can still put out when it comes to an arena-sized show that snaps, crackles, and pop-rocks. His 11-piece band and three backing singers – several members whom have been with him for decades – helped drive songs like "Cherry, Cherry'', "I'm a Believer,'' the horn-infused "Solitary Man'' and an apropos "America'' for the encore.

His muscular voice in fine form and his acoustic guitar always within arm's reach, Diamond tackled gentler fare off his new "Home Before Dark'' release, effortlessly wringing every nuance out of the title track and "Pretty Amazing Grace.''

Still a rock star at 67, he made his entrance 15 minutes late for a seamless performance that ran an hour and 45 minutes. He worked a sprawling, stage. When you're Neil Diamond, you don't clutter it up with bottled water; you drink from four crystal goblets strategically positioned on stands around the stage.

His signature arm gestures were many and his every move seemingly calculated to garner screams. He sat a café table, complete with table cloth and bud vase, at a corner of the state when he sang "Love on the Rocks''. He danced with backup singer Linda Press on their duet of "You Don't Bring Me Flowers.''

A masterful entertainer, he made sure to get around to the back of the stage to serenade those with seats behind it on "Play Me.'' (He did comment that the seats were the worst he’d ever seen and questioned why the arena had sold those seats to patrons).

Before launching into "Man of God" from his 2005 disc "12 Songs," Diamond made a plea to assist survivors of Hurricane Ike in Texas. He announced that "every penny" of the souvenir and merchandise sales in the lobby would go to build homes, adding that he, and the promoters were donating their shares of the sales.

Diamond is a grand showman, giving the audience the excitement, the light-show, and songs that blended into a magical creation of art, memories, and what-might-have-been.

I’ll concede the City of Ontario should be proud of building such a fine arena for the citizens of the Inland Empire.

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