With twists on standards, the Pops and Diamond capture pulse of night

Neil Diamond made several sparkling appearances at the Esplanade last night to entertain the crowd. Neil Diamond made several sparkling appearances at the Esplanade last night to entertain the crowd. (Matthew J. Lee/ Globe Staff)
By Marc Hirsh
Globe Correspondent / July 5, 2009
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It was a perfect picture of July 4 on the Esplanade last night: an almost full moon hanging brightly in a nearly cloudless sky, a half-million patriotically festooned revelers parked in front of the Hatch Shell, and Keith Lockhart leading the Boston Pops in commemoration of Russia’s victory over Napoleon.

At least, that’s why Tchaikovsky wrote the “1812 Overture.’’ It’s come to mean something different to Americans, who have adopted it as one of their own. But that fit in perfectly with the Pops’ proclivity for finding new ways to use preexisting material.

That could be heard in vocal jazz quartet Syncopation’s version of “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For,’’ awkwardly rearranged as limply uplifting Josh Groban-style pop, and the crowd-pleasing musical arrangement of the Pledge of Allegiance sung by 10-year-old Milton resident Oladunni Oladipo. And it may have been why Aaron Copland’s “Lincoln Portrait’’ (with recitations by professor and the Rev. Peter J. Gomes) was followed by “Hot Honey Rag’’ from “Chicago,’’ which is, after all, the largest city in the land of Lincoln.

It also came out in emcee Craig Ferguson, himself recently repurposed from Scotsman to American citizen. As the Pops snarled through “I’m Shipping Up To Boston,’’ he and Lockhart offered a step-dance so entertainingly terrible that the stage manager couldn’t help but imitate them from the wings.

The evening’s biggest draw, though, was Neil Diamond, who came out early in the evening for a jaunty one-two punch of “Cracklin’ Rosie’’ and “Forever In Blue Jeans.’’ He waited until the national broadcast of the festivities began before he busted out the big guns. It’s one thing for 40,000 people at Fenway to sing “Sweet Caroline’’; it’s another entirely to hear about a half-million holler “So good! So good! So good!’’ at the top of their lungs.

Commercials immediately followed, so Diamond did what anybody would do during the brief break: He launched into the song again. If anything, the “bap ba baa’’s were even louder when nobody at home was listening.

If that was just for Boston, “America’’ was for the whole country. After that, plenty of people repositioned themselves along the water to get a better view of what Ferguson promised would be a “nose-exploding’’ fireworks display.

Maybe they just wanted to check it out before the weather had a chance to turn again.

Correction: Because of an editing error, the 1812 Overture was misidentified in a story Sunday about Fourth of July fireworks at the Esplanade.


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