Johnga pops his Dean Cercone cherry at GarfArts, Feb. 1st. Come out tonight, support the Original, and see Dean play for yourself at NxMW!
By John Lavanga (photo courtesy of Dean Cercone)
Seeing Dean Cercone play a set at Garfield Artworks is such a frequent occurrence that if you haven’t done so, incidentally or otherwise, people begin to wonder if you actually go to shows. To my shame, February 1st was the first time I’ve had a chance to venture up to Garfield Artworks and see the man do his musical thing. I’d seen the name on enough concert posters to feel like I knew Dean personally, but quickly realized I hadn’t the slightest idea who this man was, or what he sounded like.
As I stepped into Garfield Artworks and stared down the venue’s Spartan corridor to the stage, I did my best to get my bearings, and started the note-taking faux-journalist act I pull when I have no clue what I’m doing. Before the show began I noted the local art lining the white walls, the clutters of chairs along the wall, and a bunch of scruffy looking dudes eating Spaks Bros. pizza and drinking Iron City. I shouldn’t have shaved. A few of them acknowledged me, but for the most part they just hung around, laughing amongst themselves. In the corner I saw a papier-mâché torso, a string of lights, a drum covered in wolf pictures, and a worn to hell Les Paul. What I thought was just a bunch of stuff turned out to be Dean’s performance materials, as one of the Iron City sippers stepped away from the group and started to arrange the drum, torso, lights et al into some semblance of order.
This was Dean: short with cropped blond hair, side burns, heavily worn leather boots and a Notre Dame sweatshirt. As he set up, the folks in the place pulled up chairs and gathered round. They all jeered at Dean and he joked right back. It wasn’t a show in the classic sense, but it was a hell of a lot more fun. All the folks in the venue had come because they knew Dean, they liked Dean, and they really liked his music. I asked two of the Iron City drinkers, Steve and Jackson about Dean, and they raved about his ability to establish a mood with his ambient sound, unlike most anything they had heard before. Dean never stepped onto the stage; he preferred sitting right in front on the same level as the assortment of fold out chairs. There was no separation between the crowd and the performer, and this familiarity finally put me at ease. I stopped my furious scribbling and let myself listen.
Jackson and Steve were dead on; Dean’s sound is almost too unique to describe. Though most of his songs consist of a percussion loop, his warbling, poignant voice, and that aforementioned beat-up guitar reverberating like crazy, the atmosphere he created was instantly striking. His set was haunting; the type of music that comes back to you on a lonely evening walk. It’s quite the challenge to explain how he did so much with such a simple set of instruments, but it’s certainly an experience worth having.
The most memorable aspect of Dean’s performance was his passion. A visual artist by trade with art at the Wherehouse gallery in Garfield, Dean doesn’t make music to make a splash. It’s the outlet for self-expression, and this was apparent in the way he played. He was somber and quiet between songs, clearly caught up in the mood of his own music. He changed the set on a whim, and tried a couple of new songs that he clearly wasn’t totally sure of yet. I’m sure anyone else in the crowd could tell you that they were just as moving as his rehearsed material.
Afterwards, the two of us sat on the stoop outside the venue and chatted aimlessly. Munching on a tamale an audience member/friend had given him, he told me about playing shows at the young age of 13 in the same parts of Garfield, and explained the way that the place had changed. I asked him why he made music, and he didn’t seem to know how to answer. How could he not make music? Self-expression is a necessity for Dean; he has to loop drumbeats and warble in the same way that he needs to breathe.
Dean and I talked about whatever until I realized I had missed the bus, so I bid him adieu and wandered out of Garfield, his sad sounds still reverberating in my skull. I wondered aloud how this was the first time I’d done this. Here’s hoping it isn’t the last.
Check Dean out on:
and catch Dean Cercone’s set at 9:10 PM tonight at Assemble (5125 Penn Ave)!