ATLANTIC CITY - To paraphrase Bruce Springsteen, Dion DiMucci occupies a unique spot between the Rat Pack and the E Street Band. He's a singer with the voice to be a Sinatra-style crooner, but deep down he's a rock-and-roller (and a bluesman, really), and with his archetypal combination of attitude and heart he forged a career that landed him in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
At 76, the Bronx-born Dion - he's always reminding you he's from the Bronx - remains robust both physically and creatively, as he showed in a brisk 80-minute show Saturday night at the Tropicana.
"Love Came to Me" brought out the singer's suave side early on - you could picture him delivering the number in a tuxedo. But in more instances, Dion and his five-man band served up swaggering, R&B-laced rockers such as "Ruby Baby" and "Drip Drop" and also ripped through numbers by his contemporaries Buddy Holly ("Rave On") and Eddie Cochran ("Summertime Blues").
In introducing two of his early doo-wop hits with the Belmonts, "Teenager in Love" and "I Wonder Why," the gray-haired, goateed singer pointed out how the seemingly "simplistic" songs are actually quite profound, and he proved it with performances of both that transcended adolescent angst.
Midway through, Dion dismissed the band and sat down for a solo acoustic set, which underscored that this was not merely an oldies show. In addition to displaying his forceful but fluid guitar playing and his command of the blues, he performed three strong new songs from a forthcoming album. They included the first single, "New York Is Not My Home" (he duets with Paul Simon on the recorded version). It's a mid-tempo ballad that recalls his folk-rock period of the late '60s and '70s.
No surprise, Dion closed with his two biggest crowd-pleasers, "Runaround Sue" and his signature, "The Wanderer." The latter, of course, plays like an anthem of love-'em-and-leave-'em machismo. But an often overlooked line - "With my two fists of iron, I'm going nowhere" - shows the singer is aware of the hollowness of his own braggadocio, lending a whole other layer to the song. (Again, not so simplistic.)
Dion himself was once going nowhere, because of a serious drug problem. But he's been sober for nearly five decades now, reclaiming not only a life but, as the show joyously reminded, an incandescent talent.