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Good Times Never Seemed So Super Good

Pop music: A San Francisco-based band is bringing Neil Diamond's cherry cherry classics to a '90s audience.

October 23, 1998|STEVE APPLEFORD | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Call him the Surreal Neil. That's just how Randy Cordeiro wants it, dressed in platform shoes and blinding sequins, belting out Neil Diamond hits in a strangely familiar baritone rasp, just like the great man himself.

Just don't call him an impersonator. He and his band, the San Francisco-based Super Diamond, have spent five years perfecting their approximation of the Diamond canon with some amped-up '90s energy.

They play to an increasingly younger audience often moved to crowd-surfing and stage-diving to the pop-rock sounds of "Cherry Cherry" and "I'm a Believer."

"It's pretty bizarre," says Cordeiro, 32. "It's like a rowdy sweatbox in the club sometimes."

This is no religion for Cordeiro, even if the group does perform the 1972 "Hot August Night" live album in its entirety every summer, down to the between-song stage patter. Super Diamond will focus on the singer's best-known work from the '60s and '70s tonight at the Galaxy Concert Theatre in Santa Ana.

"I overdo it," Cordeiro says. "My platform shoes are bigger; my sequined shirts are brighter. I do it a little over the top just for the campiness of it, the fun aspect. But we're certainly not making fun of him. I thought for sure we'd get some criticism from some hard-core fans, but it never happened."

Longtime Diamond fans have instead embraced the band as an uplifting substitute for Neil during the long stretches between the veteran singer's arena tours. For Denise Abbadessa, a member of the Friends of Neil Diamond international fan club, Super Diamond is the next best thing.

"I've been doing the Neil thing a long time, but it's really kind of exciting to see the young kids coming out and just digging Neil's music," says Abbadessa, 45, who estimates that she has seen nearly 90 Neil Diamond concerts since 1972. "And these guys are excellent. If they weren't good, believe me, we'd probably be throwing tomatoes and apples."

Diamond himself wasn't available for comment, but there have been signs of some approval by the singer. On KLOS-FM's (95.5) "Mark & Brian Show" last year, Diamond said, "that Surreal Neil, he's brilliant."

Although Diamond has yet to attend a Super Diamond performance, his son and daughter have and expressed their appreciation. And percussionist Vince Charles, a member of Diamond's band since 1976, joins the young pretenders onstage for all their Southern California gigs.

"He's happy that I'm playing with them," Charles, 51, said of his boss. "He thinks it's a great idea. I'm still doing his music.

"At first it was scary. Before I played with them I had to check them out," Charles said. "But as I was listening, I thought, 'Yeah, these guys are cool.' They are also excellent musicians, and I have fun playing with them."

Cordeiro first heard Diamond's music as an 11-year-old growing up in Humboldt County, when his parents bought him an eight-track tape.

As he grew into his teens, Cordeiro slowly pushed that tape to the back of his drawer, but then rediscovered Diamond at the end of the '80s as he was beginning his own musical career.

"I was kind of blown away by how good that stuff was and how forgotten it was," he said. "I started throwing more songs in during my solo set. For some reason, I started learning one after another. Not with anything in mind, making a career by doing his songs or anything, but just having fun."

He began by mixing Diamond songs in with his original compositions as a joke, expecting audiences to react against the retro vibe. They didn't.

"People loved it," he said. "I truthfully thought it might [put] people off. I was almost hesitant to do it, but I thought it would be fun to do something cheesy like that."

Cordeiro plans to quit his job as a design engineer to devote full time to music. But while Super Diamond did release an album of Diamond tunes in January, he's hoping the band will also have some success with its original music, played under the name Program 7.

He's not worried that the band's success as a Diamond tribute will pigeonhole them.

"I'm going to do my original stuff regardless if it ever takes off," Cordeiro said. "And I have a blast doing Super Diamond. Even if the original thing took off and we got a big record deal or something, we would still do an occasional Super Diamond show. It's a lot of fun."

* Super Diamond and Mission Delores play tonight at the Galaxy Concert Theatre, 3503 S. Harbor Blvd., Santa Ana. 8 p.m. $18.50-$20.50. (714) 957-0600.

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