By M.R. REES
May 6, 2004
February 2001 marked a postmodern high point in the history of the entertainment industry: Providing the music at the Hollywood premiere party for the film “Saving Silverman,” which features Jack Black and his pals playing in a Neil Diamond cover band, was a real-life Neil Diamond cover band, Super Diamond. Joining Super Diamond on the stage was none other than the Neil himself, who crooned with his much younger and much hipper progeny through “Cherry Cherry” and “Forever in Blue Jeans.”
More than three years have passed since that epic moment, but two elements of the entertainment industry remain the same: Neil Diamond still marks a cultural fault line throughout the world – equally loved and loathed – and Super Diamond continues to capitalize on his success. They do about 100 gigs a year (attracting as many as 2,500 people), and tomorrow night they bring their well-choreographed and slightly self-parodic show to the 9:30 Club.
If you’re only a fan of weepy Diamond dandies like “Hello” and “Heartlight,” stay home. This is not your mom and dad’s Neil Diamond show, where they could wear a new pair of Hush Puppies with no worries of getting a scuff. Think of a Super Diamond show as a fun-loving, somewhat raucous white-bread fraternity party for the 25-to-39 set.
The master of ceremonies is, of course, Super Diamond’s lead singer, Randy Cordero, aka “Surreal Neil” Cordero, who sounds more like Mr. Diamond than he looks like him, and compensates by outfitting himself and the band in vintage Diamond-style sequins, bell bottoms and platform shoes. He has described the band’s concerts as “Neil Diamond on steroids,” and the group sticks to the pre-’82 Diamond tunes that lend themselves to dancing, drinking, and singing.
Given the band member’s musical influences (Rush, Scorpions, Van Halen), they mischievously infuse the occasional Diamond song with 10- to 15-second riffs of such tunes as “Tom Sawyer,” “Rock You Like a Hurricane” and “Runnin’ With the Devil.” For 30-something Diamond fans who cling to those songs with as much passion as their high school lettermen’s jackets, Super Diamond will hit your sweet spot.
Your average job placement service does not typically post listings for full-time employment as the lead singer of a Neil Diamond tribute band. How did Surreal Neil land the gig?
Mr. Cordero says he was a Diamond fan during his childhood – at 38, he’s old enough to have listened to him on eight-track – but heavy metal got the better of him.
“When I was 12,” he says somewhat wistfully, “I didn’t know anyone my age who listened to Neil Diamond.” However, in 1989 this amateur musician found himself drawn back to the man Rolling Stone dubbed “the Jewish Elvis,” and on a lark he started performing solo at clubs and parties. The act gained popularity, and Mr. Cordero eventually hooked up with other San Francisco-area musicians also willing to confess they were fans of the Man. Faster than you can say, “I Am … I Said,” Super Diamond was born.
Eleven years later, the soft-spoken Mr. Cordero insists he still loves what he does – Super Diamond has been his full-time gig since 1998 – but he doesn’t sugarcoat it.
“When I tell people my job,” he says, “60 percent of them tell me they hate Neil Diamond.”