The Uncommon Neil Diamond CD Collection
Part 2: The Live Concert Discs

These discs are a curiosity- they're not official releases, and had been obtained via secondary sources. At this time, they fill a niche that has not been adequately covered by Neil's standard CD catalog. These discs sometimes delve into esoterica, and are primarily of interest to the hardcore collector.


Neil Diamond Is Far-Out! (1971)
Neil Diamond in Stuttgart, Germany (1971)

Neil Diamond, Live in Stuttgart, Germany, and Neil Diamond at the Greek '71 are paired in the 2-disc set, Neil Diamond Is Far-Out!. This 2-disc set is packaged in an all-too-accurate spoof of a teenybopper magazine, á la 16, or Tiger Beat. This really has to be seen to be believed.

The sound quality never rises above "good" (on a scale of poor to excellent). The Stuttgart show is closer to "fair/good" and the Greek '71 show is best rated as "fair". Both are audience recordings, and have the distinctive sound of being taped on a crappy portable recorder at the back of the hall. The Greek '71 recordings overload often, and although the quiet parts of the songs sound passable, the rockin' bits are completely obliterated by screeching (and nightmarish) distortion. But somewhere, hidden in the noisy din is some crisp playing by an excellent band led by Dennis St. John, and exceptionally powerful singing by a 30 year-old Neil Diamond, at the peak of his vocal powers.

The Stuttgart show was recorded with a basic band and still included Carol Hunter's jangly guitar playing, while the Greek '71 shows was recorded with the same band (sans Hunter), a group of backing singers, and an orchestra, conducted by Lee Holdridge. Even though Holdridge and orchestra were present, they were curiously not used for "A Modern Day Version of Love" or "Brooklyn Roads", as both songs were stripped down to sparse, minimalist arrangements. The show also included some unusual one-off numbers like "The Ballad of the Superstud", "Measles" and "Black and Blue", which have never seen a legit release. Alas, the lyrics are unintelligible, due to the poor sound quality, which is really too bad, because performance-wise, the Greek '71 show was, in its own way, just as much a legendary set as 1972's Hot August Night.

I'm completely convinced that whatever Neil's tickets were selling for, he was worth 10 times that amount!

There is a variant title, Neil Diamond in Stuttgart, Germany that contains only the 1971 Stuttgart show, with much-improved sound quality, most likely because it was sourced from  a lower-generation tape. This one comes closer to "very good", with less tape hiss and clearer vocals.

Far Out!

Variant
Distinguishing marks
A Both volumes packaged together as Neil Diamond is Far Out!  Discs mastered to mono
B Stuttgart: B & W cover. Disc mastered to mono. Best sound quality of all variants.
C Sttuttgart: color cover. Disc mastered to stereo from mono source
D Greek 71: grainy color cover. Disc mastered to stereo from mono source


Another Hot August Night (1972)
The Tree People Tales (1972)

Hot August Night, recorded on Aug 24, 1972 was a watershed moment in Neil Diamond's career. Neil's reputation as a live performer was made by that album. Some of us were left with the feeling of wanting "still more". What else can be had from that time period? At last, we have an answer. There are now 2 supplemental titles available, spotlighting 3 additional concerts taken from same concert series. All 3 of these concerts (along with the official HAN) show variations in the setlist and in Neil's between-song patter. But make no mistake, these extra shows were not professionally recorded. They were audience tapes, and the differences in sound quality, pitch and overall recording ambience indicates that they were recorded on different machines.

Aug 22nd and Aug 26th were paired together in a massive 4-CD set called Another Hot August Night. The first half of the 22nd contained some outstanding things, like "Shilo". But on the show's second half, he sometimes did not keep pace with the band (esp. on "Canta Libre" and "Play Me"), and I can imagine how frustrating it must've been for Dennis St. John and Lee Holdridge, waiting to time their entrances. Neil was rather erratic (and very ill)- stopping for periods of time and allowing guitar riffs to repeat several times before he would finally sing a verse or even a stanza.

The Aug 22nd show contains several rarities, "Black n' Blue (From Kickin' Myself)", "The Ballad of the Superstud" and "Gitchy Goomy". The first two are much more intelligible than the ones from the 1971 Greek show due to the better sound quality. The mix is heavy on the piano and the vibes, and on the violin section of the orchestra (meaning that we miss Lee Holdridge's exquisite cello arrangements entirely). It also has a persistent hum throughout the recording, although the hum is not particularly bad or annoying.

On the 26th, Neil was more "himself". This was 2 days AFTER the official HAN, so Neil had a few more days to heal up. He joked more with the audience, and spoke longer monologues, and had more songs on the setlist (29 tracks, as opposed to the average of 25). He also had some fun singing "Porcupine Pie" with its original lyric of "gorilla soup" and talking about how disgusting the whole idea was!

Neil had a very original new interpretation of "Play Me", starting the song with a spoken-word recitation of the lyrics. The rarities on Aug. 26th were: "The Last Thing on My Mind", "I Think It's Gonna Rain Today" and "Chelsea Morning". The mix of the 26th is very Neil-heavy, loud, clear with no echo. But most of the instruments are buried under the very loud vocal track. The recording is undistorted, and can be pleasant to listen to, although I would have wanted to hear more of the band.

Another HAN

The Tree People Tales is a standalone title, containing the Aug 25th show. It really does sound like it was recorded by the Tree People!!! The talking, laughing and clapping is kind of loud, but the overall sound quality is decent, without overload distortion. In a way, it's a "you're REALLY there" type of recording, with Neil's voice echoing with a "back of the hall" sound. The audience was muted on HAN, giving people the impression that all they did was clap politely between tracks. On The Tree People Tales, you can really hear what was going on in the seats- the audience was going crazy and having a great time!

It does have the advantage of a good orchestra presence (with both violin and cello sections audible) and Dennis St. John's jungle drumming that lent an immediacy to "Soolaimon" that was missing from Another Hot August Night. I also liked the faster tempo of "Holly Holy"- it wasn't as dirge-like as the one on HAN proper. We do have 2 incomplete songs... and they would have to be "Gitchy Goomy" (better than the 22nd) and (sniff) the incredibly rare "A Modern Day Version of Love" Arrrggghhh!!!

In my opinion, they could have used Aug 25th instead of Aug 24th and could have had an album of equal merit. As I played The Tree People Tales, I kept saying, Mmmmm, Nice! Very good!" I prefer the "Cherry Cherry" on the 25th- more of a "Latin" feel than we usually get. And his voice was really great, a wonderful range- he'd lost some of the nasality of HAN, being that this was recorded on the next day.

It's always interesting to compare variant recordings. The overall quality of the music is all so high- it makes it so difficult to pick a favorite. Too many gems to choose from! What an embarrassment of riches! Since these are all audience tapes, we can tell that there were no overdubs on the official HAN, because the other concerts from the series sounded similar. The "Hot August Night Series" was not scripted, and best of all, they show that Neil was no fluke. All of the shows shared a comparable magic, and one (Aug 25th) was the equal of HAN (the official album), peformance-wise.

Tree People


Live in Brisbane, Australia (1976)

Neil had performed a series of concerts before enthusiastic audiences on the Australia/New Zealand tour in 1976. The Brisbane show was taped for posterity on a portable tape recorder, from the audience. I guess that we should be grateful for any audio documents of Neil's 1976 concerts, but the editing on this one was pretty brutal, as if the person taping it was desperate to conserve tape, so we are missing a lot of the between-song stage patter, and the band introductions. Many of the songs on Disc 2 are forcibly faded out, instead of being a continuous recording. There are 2 somewhat rare songs on this, "Red Red Wine" and a slightly ragged "Rosemary's Wine" (done better on The Sound of Silent Thunder, listed below). Otherwise, Live in Brisbane, Australia is similar to its Sydney sibling, the famed Thank You Australia set. But, it doesn't match the sound of TYA for obvious reasons.

The back cover has a helpful map of Australia. We Americans have a tendency to be a bit clueless on world geography, so the map is very useful in showing us where Perth, Melbourne, Sydney, Adelaide and Brisbane really are, and the distance that Neil travelled for this tour (and how far off Perth really is, all by itself in Western Oz!)

Brisbane 76


Thank You Australia (1976)

The amazing Thank You Australia concert has *inevitably* found its way onto CD. There are copies of video versions circulating, which this CD set was NOT taken from. The audio on this set is of true high-fidelity, with a full dynamic range, and an excellent sound mix. The audio is only 2 generations removed from the original source broadcast. You won't be able to find Thank You Australia with better sound.

A little background: In early 1976, Neil had decided to perform his first post-sabbatical tour in Australia and New Zealand. The final concert of that tour, on 09 Mar. 1976, was performed at the Sydney Sports Arena in Sydney and was shown on national TV there. As this was the first time that he'd tried out the Jonathan Livingston Seagull medley before an audience, Neil and his band were still clearly testing out different approaches to presenting it live. I prefer the way it was done here, without Neil's pretentious narration that would spoil (for me) the experience of listening to it on the later Love at the Greek.

The Sydney show is notable because Neil was relaxed, charming, humorous, and had a genuine rapport with the audience, as his whimsical reading of the Cadbury (candy) and Pioneer (stereo) commercials would show. Even though Neil did not have new material at the time, his performances of his back catalog had a freshness, and genuine enthusiasm that would be hard to match in later years.
 

Variant
Distinguishing marks
A No "Play Me" song. One-third of "Morningside" missing. TV static on "Sung Sung Blue". 2 different front/back insert variants.
B "Play Me" song added. "Morningside" restored to full-length. No TV static on "Sung Sung Blue" (different audio source). Updated inserts, using similar design as original.

Australia 76


The Sound of Silent Thunder (1976)

It's easy to get jaded after getting a dozen-or-so Neil Diamond unauthorized discs. This one, The Sound of Silent Thunder is definitely something special. We've heard many, many audience tapes, and this one is pretty good, as far as the sound goes, even being recorded on 2 separate (and unequal) recorders. Luckily for us, the better one was used for the first 90 minutes, until the second one was swapped in midway through "Song Sung Blue". Like its title hints, this set is incredibly special because it contains a true live 1976 performance of the impossibly-rare "Lady Magdelene" and "Rosemary's Wine". Very impressive, with Neil using the high and the low end of his register for an extremely dramatic effect. Neil's was in excellent voice, and his enthusiasm for his then-new Beautiful Noise songs showed. They were grouped together in their own segment, with Neil's autobiographical narratives between the songs. We'd heard some of it before on Love at the Greek, but this show (more complete and songs are in the correct sequence) also gives us a good idea about how "Surviving the Life" fits into the story.

The first half of the show is a strong, trebly Very Good Plus, with somewhat of a bass deficiency. The second half is Very Good, with audience noise so loud that they sound not unlike jet engines taking off.

The Sound of Silent Thunder resembles Love At the Greek (which was recorded only a week later) but it also has seven very magical and memorable minutes of "Lady Magdelene". Kudos to the fans who were clever enough to record this particular night for posterity, enabling us to also be able to relive this once-in-a-lifetime evening!

Hear Neil's passionate new spin on "Lady Magdelene"

Silent Thunder


Live at Woburn Abbey (1977)

Even though this particular concert was a milestone event in Neil's career, it didn't get its fame from the quality of performance. Really. I'd heard better shows. Neil seemed pretty tense and keyed up at Woburn, and his vocals had little of the warmth and comfortable, flowing ease of the 1976 Oz shows. This is an audience recording, and the bass mix is almost overpowering on this.

There isn't really much I'm Glad You're Here With Me Tonight material on this (just "Dance of the Sabres"), so that places Woburn at the end of the the Beautiful Noise tour. The designated "rare track" here is "Reggae Strut".

The artwork on this set is truly outstanding.

Woburn Abbey 77


Neil Diamond In Concert: Madison, Wisconsin 1977 (1977)

Based on the sound quality, I'd say that Neil Diamond In Concert: Madison, Wisconsin 1977 is a high-end audience recording, similar to the quality of the Yes bootleg LP, Sorcerer's Apprentice. The Neil Diamond CD is in mono, and is of very good fidelity. The bass response is good, and Neil's voice (in excellent form here) is loud and clear. Plus, the mix of the 12 string acoustic guitar, esp. on "Holly Holy", is astonishingly rich. The performance is very satisfying, and the song selection, with several seldom-performed songs, makes this set very worthwhile. It contains "Dance of the Sabres", "Signs", "Desiree", "Let Me Take You In My Arms Again", "I'm Glad You're Here With Me Tonight" and "God Only Knows", as well as Diamond's usual hit factory, performed live. Neil also sings the seasonal favorite, "Winter Wonderland".
 

Variant
Distinguishing marks
A Each disc has one long track. Plain white back insert with text titles. Beautiful glossy photo labels. Digital skips on Disc 2.
B Songs divided into separate tracks. Color photo back insert with song titles. Text labels. Digital skips edited out.

Madison, Wis 77


Neil Diamond Live in Chicago, Illinois (1982)

Neil Diamond Live in Chicago, Illinois is an unedited, full length concert on 3 CDs. Good, in some ways, because we get a chance to hear an entire concert, including stage patter, band introductions, a bit of demented humor, and some unexpected surprises (a steel-drum version of "My Favorite Things"!). In some ways, it's also more than we need, because by 1982, Neil had started to perform an endless series of reprises to songs like "Forever in Blue Jeans" and "Dancing In the Street". After the 2nd or so reprise, I started to wish that he DIDN'T write "Forever in Blue Jeans"!

You'd think that Neil would have performed something from his then-current On The Way To The Sky album, but he did not. Did he conveniently forget about that album and concentrate on his truly strong material, like his spirited rendering of songs from The Jazz Singer on Disc 1?

Chicago '82 provides a much-needed "link" in understanding the way he sounded in 1977 and the way he sounded in 1987. LATG and HAN2 were released 10 years apart, and I remember how shocked I was at hearing how much his voice had declined. I knew that it didn't happen overnight, and I had wondered how it came to be that way. Chicago '82 provides that bridge, with large sections still retaining the warmth of his '70's voice, with his wonderful low-end but that dreaded gravel or the nasality seemed to pop up occasionally. "Beautiful Noise" had been done better, in another time,  in another place.

The sound is very satisfactory, bordering on excellent. I don't believe it's a soundboard recording, it's a true stereo audience recording with full bass response. There are some parts that shouldn't have been overloaded so, and some of the songs were indexed in a strange way. The main problem with early versions of this title is the pitch, which I believe is somewhere between 4-5% off on the slow side.
 

Variant
Distinguishing marks
A Pitch is 4-5% slow. Cover art shows a picture of Chicago Stadium. Discs are configured as follows: Disc 1: 17 trks, Disc 2: 23 trks, Disc 3: 11 trks.
B Pitch corrected. Cover art as shown in scan below.  Discs are configured as follows: Disc 1: 16 trks, Disc 2: 13 trks, Disc 3: 13 trks. (some tracks combined into one)

Chicago, Ill 82


Live In Concert- Earls Court, London- 28 June 1984 (1984)

Neil Diamond Live in Earls Court has its roots in a street vendor's wares, believe it or not! The sound is high quality audience recording, with Neil's vocals and all instruments very clear. Soundwise, one of the best, without gratuitous echo or distortion.

Neil's voice had an unusual quality on this recording. He had a gravely sound at the back of his throat, and sang in a key that was higher than usual- not unlike the way he sang on the video, Greatest Hits Live. But still, it's good to hear him sing and really hold notes AND switch keys, instead of shout or resort to sing/speak, as he did later.

A special treat is to hear "Red Red Wine", with the last-gasp of its older, mournful country arrangement, before Neil converted it to faux-reggae. The 2 discs contain the usual set of songs that were part of Neil's 1984-1985 set lists, as well as a collection of infrequently-sung songs like "Thank the Lord for the Night Time" (a Top 15 song that's been criminally overlooked for too long, and had been mothballed for over a decade from live shows), "The Dancing Bumble Bee" (at the end of its run as a viable concert song), "Surviving The Life" (ditto) and the aforementioned "Red Red Wine".

Earls Ct.


Neil Diamond Live in Ames, IA (1985)

Neil Diamond Live in Ames, IA is another full-length concert recording, with a running time of 143 minutes. It has quite a bit of similarity to Hot August Night II as far as the song selection goes, but the main difference is that Neil sang better in Ames! If one was to compare the song selections, one can see that the most interesting songs from that time period (present on Ames '85) were the ones that were deleted from HAN 2- songs such as "Brooklyn Roads", "Beautiful Noise", "Jungletime", "If You Know What I Mean" and the "Jonathan Livingston Seagull" medley. On the other hand, "Sweet Caroline" and "Song Sung Blue" began their transition into showtune singalongs by 1985, and Neil was still performing an excessively large number of reprises to "Forever In Blue Jeans" (not helped by the audience's constant chants of "one more time!!!")

I also appreciate the fact that Neil spoke with the audience, and didn't shout at them. Neil's warm baritone and careful enunciation were particularly good on this set.

Since the Ames concert was recorded in December, it includes 2 seasonal songs, "Winter Wonderland" "Deck The Halls", plus a comedic number that was played while artificial snow was swept from the arena.

Technically, Ames '85 is a clear, and reasonably undistorted stereo audience recording. It's becoming ironic that Neil bootlegs are musically better than the legit offerings from his record company from that same time period, namely Greatest Hits Live (video) and Hot August Night 2 (LP). The bootleg beats both of them on a) quality of Neil's singing voice b) selection of songs c) genuine "you are there" feel. It wouldn't, of course, beat the sound quality of an official disc.

Ames 1985


Clown Shirt Troubadour (1992)

Clown Shirt Troubadour was recorded during Neil's 1992 UK tour. This is only an average audience boot, so don't expect audio miracles. If you'd heard the quality of Neil's voice on The Greatest Hits 1966-1992 and on Live In America, then you'll know exactly what this sounds like.

There are some people who really like Neil's live performances from this time period, but I can't really count myself among them. So I can't truly recommend this, or any of Neil's early 90's concerts (legit or bootleg) on a purely musical level. Granted, he was a very entertaining showman onstage, but vocal-wise, it is very easy to locate better performances of these songs.

By the way, the title is a play on the term "clown shirts", used by fans to describe the loud shirts that Neil wore onstage from 1989-1993, with a more extreme "clown" style being used in 1989.

Clown Shirt



Hot Damn in Birmingham (1999)

Hot Damn in Birmingham

Hot Damn



Final note: Yes, the CDs shown in this article really are for real and do exist. They spend a lot of time in my CD player as musical entertainment. Just don't ask where I got them from!

This is only a sampling of the rare recordings of Neil Diamond that are out there. Please do not ask me to sell any of these CDs. They are unofficial CDs, and I do not have a stock of them to sell. I cannot accept any money for discs like these! Please do not ask me where to buy these- my sources do not accept direct buyers. The best way to obtain these is to know someone who has connections, or to know and understand the nuances of non-commercial CD-R trading.

Related Pages:
The Uncommon Neil Diamond CD Collection- Studio
The Bootleg Manifesto
CD-R Trading in the Modern Age


This article is Copyright 1999-2001, K.F. Louie. May not be reproduced without the written permission of the author.

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