After a three-year hiatus, Neil Diamond made his return to the stage with a seven-city tour of Australia and New Zealand. At the time, he was a huge hit down under because his classic 1972 live album Hot August Night had become Australia’s biggest-selling record. According to the DVD liner notes because of the overwhelming, enthusiastic response Diamond got from the audiences, he “announced that for the first time ever there would be live TV coverage of his performance at the 14th and final show, broadcast nationwide via Channel Nine and 37 affiliate stations.”
Playing in front of a record size crowd in front of more than 35,000 at the Syndey Sports Ground on March 9th, Diamond and his group delivered almost two full hours that covered, what was then, his ten years as a performer, from the upbeat, mid-‘60s pop of “Cherry, Cherry” to the mellow, early-‘70s singer-songwriter contemplation of “I Am, I Said.”
Diamond engaged the audience a lot, having as much playing as the audience has listening. He revealed “Song Sung Blue” was inspired by a Mozart piece and then got the crowd to sing, whistle, and hum along. At one point he rambled on far too long, taking an almost 10-minute break where he asked people to shout out where they were from and later attempted to get philosophical about the moment, which was obviously off the cuff. He was likely spared laughter because the sincerity of his emotions outweighed the corniness of his words.
“…every concert is a once-in-a-lifetime affair. I’ve performed all over the world but every one is unique. We will never us, be here the way we are tonight. It’s going to happen once. Before we know it, it will be over. But while we have it, it’s something to remember and absorb.”
He also chastised those in the crowd that threw streamers at him, yet some thoughtless rube still made contact with him during “Brother Love’s Traveling Salvation Show.”
Diamond closed the set with seven songs from the soundtrack to Jonathan Livingstone Seagull. Throughout the segment, video effects created images of a flying gull, the blue ocean, and a sunset sky that augmented the story. They look strange by today’s standards, but were likely state of the art for Australia mid-‘70s television. He encored with “Brother Love’s…” and “I’ve Been This Way Before” with fireworks that occurred elsewhere superimposed over the conclusion.
The video holds up well, but the audio isn’t great. On my 7.1 Surround Sound Speaker System, I could hear an occasional high-pitched whine throughout the concert. It didn’t overwhelm the music, but it was noticeable.
The DVD comes with bonus features. There is footage of “Morningside,” but I don’t understand why it was cut out of the sequence. Also from the television broadcast is an introduction by David Frost and live commercials for Cadbury Chocolate and Pioneer Stereo, although Diamond’s playful, teasing humor about the task might have been more than the sponsors had bargained for. The best feature is a 47-minute interview from A Current Affair with Michael Schildberger. It is engaging and informative as Diamond reveals quite a lot about himself in a serious conversation. This alone might well be worth the cost of the DVD for fans. There is also a replica of the advertisement that appeared in the March 7, 1976 Sunday Independent promoting the special.
Diamond fans will thank themselves for picking up Live 1976 to absorb as often as they desire. Casual fans should be pleased with the number of hits played and how well they sound.