Battle of the Neils

Local musicians and actors bring back comedy concert about Neil Diamond and Neil Young

By Molly Priddy
Nick Spear, left, and Anthony Mead give their best Neil Young and Neil Diamond impressions while posing for a portrait on Oct. 1, 2015. Greg Lindstrom | Flathead Beacon

What happens when an unmovable object meets an unstoppable force? What about when a hurricane meets a volcano? Or when two of the biggest Neils in the world collide in Detroit in the ‘90s?

Singers and actors Nick Spear and Anthony Mead intend on answering at least one of these questions on Oct. 9 and 10, when they bring the new comedy tribute concert “Neil Before Me” back to life in the Flathead.

The premise of the concert is this: In a fiction world about 20 years ago, Neil Young, played by Spear, and Neil Diamond, played by Mead, are accidentally double booked at a gig in Detroit.

The resulting farce should have the audience intermittently laughing and singing along, Spear said. He wrote up the script last year after a conversation with a good friend about who was the better Neil Diamond impersonator.

“We decided, ‘Well, we should have a Neil Diamond-off,'” Spear said. “But then it became, ‘You do your best Neil Diamond and I’ll do my best Neil Young.'”

Spear and Mead performed the comedy at Whitefish’s Crush Lounge last year for a fundraiser, and since then have fielded requests to bring it back to the stage.

“There’s been a demand around town,” Mead said. “I’m fired up, I can’t wait.”

As a musician, Spear’s influence is obvious around the valley. He released the album “A River Below” in 2012 and a new track called “I Had a Nice Time” in January of this year. His single, “The Song We Sing,” got good radio play on 103.1 The River, and he plays shows all over the valley and Missoula as the front man of The New Wave Time Trippers.

Mead is one of the owners of Whitefish’s Straight Blast Gym International, but before moving to the valley, he and his wife Becky Rygg were actors in New York. They moved to the Flathead thinking they had left the theater world behind, only to find the flush and colorful theater community here.

Together, the duo has an easy back and forth, each lobbing jokes at the other, and each one making the other laugh with every other sentence. Such a friendship lends itself to great comedy chemistry on stage.

The comedy concert is 70 minutes long, with plenty of Diamond’s and Young’s staple songs mixed throughout.

Spear said the fictional meeting between the two mega-stars starts out antagonistically, given that the two are incredibly different when it comes to their theories on how music should be marketed. (Young famously eschews media attention, while Diamond loves the spotlight.)

Eventually, though, it becomes more of a “weird collaboration” between them, and also stars a few other famous Neils from history. Musicians Don Caverly and Marco Forcone round out the cast.

The Oct. 9 showing takes place at the Bigfork Center for the Performing Arts, which has already had solid ticket presales, Spear said. A follow-up show on Oct. 10 will happen on Crush’s stage, though there is only room for 80 people. Both shows start at 8 p.m.

Tickets for the shows are available at www.eventbrite.com.

Spear and Mead both said they’ve had a great time putting the show together, and gave little away about how the Neils end up – will the warble and mutton chops of Young outpace Diamond’s “Sweet Caroline” enthusiasm? Will the sunglasses continue to grow larger with each scene? Will audiences have to choose between two iconic men of American music?

These answers, and more, await.

“It’s really funny,” Spear said. “And it’s thoroughly entertaining.”

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