When you see one of those tribute bands that dot the landscape every summer, do you ever wonder how some of the frontmen decided to devote their careers to the repertoire of a single artist?
In the case of Dean Colley, it was a matter of self-preservation.
Colley was a pre-med student working as an assistant to an emergency room doctor when he decided to take advantage of his resemblance to Neil Diamond to form a tribute band called Hot August Night.
For the past 20 years, he has performed around the world. For him, entertaining audiences is more fulfilling than the nightmarish existence in the ER.
Hot August Night, named for Diamond’s acclaimed 1972 engagement at L.A.’s Greek Theatre, helped close out the summer schedule on Sept. 6 at the High Street Arts Center in Moorpark with a well-received concert of Diamond favorites.
Diamond started as a song plugger in the famed Brill Building in New York, churning out pop hits produced by songsmiths Jeff Barry and Ellie Greenwich and writing “I’m a Believer” for the Monkees.
After leaving the independent Bang record label in 1968, Diamond joined MCA’s Uni label, eventually becoming the top male vocalist of the 1970s and ’80s, attracting aging rock ’n’ roll fans who had been looking for an idol ever since Elvis Presley’s descent into Hollywood purgatory.
Colley’s resemblance to the mid-70s “Love at the Greek” era Diamond is astonishing, complete with sequined blue shirt, high-waisted pants and Italian boots. (Colley claims to spend over $2,000 a year just on his wardrobe.) But Colley’s similarity to Diamond doesn’t stop there. His voice is an uncanny representation of Diamond’s rich baritone, topped off by a raspy growl that he uses for effect on songs like “Brother Love’s Travelling Salvation Show” and “Thank the Lord for the Night Time.”
Strumming a rhythm guitar, Colley whizzed through Diamond’s Bang years during the first act, playing such early favorites as “Cherry, Cherry,” “Kentucky Woman” and “Solitary Man,” but he didn’t hit his stride until after intermission, when he discarded his guitar and worked his magic with the audience on Uni hits like “Holly Holy,” “Cracklin’ Rosie” and “Sweet Caroline,” the latter now surpassing “Song Sung Blue” as Diamond’s most popular song with audiences, who chant “so good, so good, so good” during the traditional performances of the song during seventh inning stretches at Boston’s Fenway Park.
To his credit, Colley focused more on Diamond’s early-to-midcareer hits of the late ’60s and early ’70s, adding less familiar early titles like “You Got to Me” and “Red, Red Wine” rather than the more pretentious hits of the “Heartlight” 1980s.
As a personality, Colley is warm and engaging but could include a little more about Diamond himself. Instead, the audience got the usual “Do you remember . . .” questions and “Is everybody having a good time?” patter. A little more revealing information about his own past and how his devotion to the Diamond catalog came about would certainly elevate the effectiveness of his concerts.
What made the concert somewhat less than satisfying was the sound of Colley’s band, which featured Frank Hanson’s over-modulated lead guitar, whose controls must have been set on “shrill,” and veteran keyboardist Karl Carrasco’s carpet-bombing synthesizer, which overwhelmed introspective songs like “I Am . . . I Said” and “Play Me.” Diamond’s 1970 atmospheric single “Soolaimon” could have benefited from African drums, but percussionist Steve Sturgis chose to stay with his standard drum kit.
No one comes to a Neil Diamond show to hear the band, and Colley’s unit, although musically talented, was over-amplified and poorly equalized.
For his encore, Colley selected “America,” the pro-immigrant anthem whose idealistic message of inclusion seems to have been forgotten in some quarters.