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BergenPAC: Diamond in the rough could shine

Photo Credit: Cliffview Pilot
Photo Credit: Cliffview Pilot

IN TUNE : BergenPAC in Englewood is offering 25% off tickets for the rest of its summer series, including the Beach Boys tonight, “An Evening at the Hotel California” with former Eagle Don Felder, the Dark Star Orchestra, and Dennis Miller. Let’s hope the acts bring “A” games even if they find themselves staring into swaths of empty seats, as Dion did Tuesday night.


The disappointment of a nearly half-filled auditorium for the rock and roll legend was matched only by the pedestrian excuse for a professional performance onstage.

Yes, there were many 60-somethings who came into the “new” downtown early, had dinner, then clapped along gleefully to Dion’s canon. Although I didn’t meet her, I’m certain I know the name of the bleached blonde about 15 rows back who jumped up, hopped up and down and waved her arms over her head during “Donna the Prima Donna.”

It’s one thing to knock ’em dead with a reprise of a hit or two with the E Street Band at a “Rock and Roll Hall of Fame” concert. But to mount a full-fledged show, and take it on the road, town to town, night after night, takes its toll on a onetime doo-wop hearthrob who earlier this month turned 71. His voice — what could be heard of it, anyway — showed it.

Unfortunately, it was a bad mix all around. What’s billed as an ultra-special sound system produced a muddled noise. And the theater’s way too hot; drains your energy.

Jerry DeMarco Publisher/Editor

The staff is great, but even one of them admitted she wished the joint had more zip — and she was old enough to be my mom.

Yes, Dion did the hits, plus Buddy Holly’s “Rave On” and Eddie Cochran’s “Summertime Blues,” among other filler.

He managed to entertain several hundred people, despite a sax player with a bad combover and an equally tired set of lungs. He did it despite a drummer who spent most of his time merely keeping time, skimming across the skins and, as his form of flourish, lifting one stick, then the other, high in the air before crashing down on a cymbal.

The lead guitarist ripped off a few tasty licks, then retreated to the background, gazing around the theater while mindlessly strumming. Simpl y put: I’ve seen tighter wedding bands.


But there he was, Dion DiMucci himself, formerly of Belmont Avenue in the Bronx, currently of Boca Raton, smiling and singing teen anthems. “Summertime Blues”? When’s the last time he had a boss who could tell him “No dice, son, you gotta work late”?

There’s no shame in staging “An Evening With Dion” at, say, Joe’s Pub, or City Winery. He could talk about the age of doo-wop, the lightning-fast rise to the top of the charts, the disappointment that followed once the Beatles planted the British Invasion’s flag here, the deep feeling of loss that gave rise to “Abraham, Martin and John,” and all that’s happened since.

Imagine a stool, an acoustic guitar and the tiny man with the black beret and white overbite.

Instead we get a straight-ahead state fair outfit, playin’ the golden oldies, led by a tiny guy with a black beret and white overbite, with an all-too-brief mini-acoustic set dropped in.

This was the end of the tour, we were told, and it felt like it — a getaway game, with the bus double-parked, engine running.

If you were pleasing yourself, Dion, more power to ya, pops. I just know that if memories were all I sang, I’d rather drive a truck.

As for the folks running BergenPAC:

I humbly suggest you pay the Wellmont Theater in Montclair a visit. Watch and listen. Ask questions. Take notes. They know how to stage a show — and how to book acts that a wider audience pays to see.

It’s easier to get to Englewood than Montclair if you’re headed from the more populated east. But we have to make it damned worth the audience’s while, or else they aren’t coming back.

So why not go after Emmy Lou Harris, Richard Thompson, Allison Kraus, Roseann Cash — Steely Dan, even? Buddy Guy. Rufus Wainwright. Al Green. Dave Mason. The Deftones. Southside Johnny. Get Mario Cantone. Steven Wright. Sarah Silverman. Or one of the “Blue Collar” guys. New Found Glory. Los Lobos. Gov’t Mule. Built to Spill. Margaret Cho.

Y’know, Shelby Lynne is playing Mexicali Blues, a short hop down Route 4, in Teaneck. Put her and her sister, Allison Moorer, on the same stage and watch those 1,000-plus seats fill.

Of if you really want to be daring: Convince Alejandro Escovedo, Maya, the Roots, or Gaslight Anthem to play a surprise show, and either record or broadcast it (you’ve got the technotoys to do it). Blanket the media with notice  a day or two before.

Create a buzz, a vibe. Pay a little extra for a true BIG NAME, not a tired retread, once every other month. Put this beautiful theater on the popular music map.

If you work it, they will come.


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