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Friday, 03 May 2013 08:35

Concert review: Dick Dale (with Lookout Joe) hangs 10 at the Blueberry Hill Duck Room on Thursday, May 2

Dick Dale Dick Dale John Rudolph Photography
Written by Matt Champion

When royalty comes to town, they tend to make waves. Dick Dale, the King of Surf Guitar, doused his willing subjects in waves of reverb as he held court at the Blueberry Hill Duck Room.

Lookout Joe opened the evening by stating that the band would be playing some country tunes tonight. "Don't worry," quipped lead guitarist and vocalist Brian Henneman, "It's not hot new country. It's cool old country." Following up that statement by immediately jumping into a great rendition of the Merle Haggard tune "Ramblin' Fever" was an excellent choice in driving the point home.

The band's set hit upon the best of classic country with more than a handful of Merle Haggard tunes, a George Jones track and some Waylon Jennings while also bringing in some names unfamiliar to me, namely Don Williams' "Tulsa Time" and what was probably my favorite new find of the week, John Anderson's "She Just Started Liking Cheating Songs." They also played a few old favorites by Chuck Berry and Creedence Clearwater Revival.

Brian Henneman shared lead vocal duties with rhythm guitarist Kip Loui and upright bassist Richard Tralles. I found that their voices were similar enough to keep the same general sound yet each member sang his songs differently. Henneman stuck to the songs that needed a little grit in them while Loui kept his vocals clean and Tralles filled in the gap between the two.

Keyboardist Carl Pandolfi and drummer Spencer Marquart joined the trio. Both deserve mention because they meshed so well with the core three members that I was shocked to see that they weren't official members of the group. The pianist busted out some of the best honky-tonk piano I've heard in a long time. The drummer... When a guy shows up for a gig with one snare and throws out more sound than a drum line in full swing, he deserves a tip of the cap.

I suppose that you could technically call them a cover band, but I'll personally slap the taste out of the mouth of anyone who tries to go there. Every song was played as if they were the ones who poured out their hearts into writing the riffs and lyrics. There was no copycatting or imitation on the stage. You knew that "Big River" was a Johnny Cash tune, but it sounded like Lookout Joe.

I wasn't expecting to see a classic country group open for someone like Dick Dale, but I'm glad I was able to catch the set. That isn't a genre I usually listen to on my own and seeing sets like these make me wonder why I haven't put some of those songs into my daily life.

After a bit of an extended break after Lookout Joe finished its set, the unmistakable sound of Dick Dale's guitar came blaring through the PA. While Dale noodled around a bit backstage, bassist Sam Bolle and drummer Dusty Watson took their places and waited for the backstage door to open. After a few more moments, the King of Surf Guitar himself strolled out from his den, playing riffs like a madman while keeping a nonchalant appearance.

After a few minutes of the reverb-drenched sting that Dale is known for, he stopped playing to admonish the sound guy for adjusting his microphone levels. The first time he was relatively nice about it, asking for more bass and treble since he liked his vocals crisp. "You don't need to adjust my volume," he said. "I sing like I always do, I don't do that "cup the mic and scream" stuff they do these days."

Addressing the crowd, Dale explained that he never played using a set list; he decides what to play on the fly while the band followed his lead. He asked the crowd to make some noise if he played something they wanted to hear, partly so he could play the whole song and partly to make him feel bitchin'.

After blasting into his version of "Ghost Riders in the Sky" and shifting through various other tunes, Dale delivered another set of instructions to the sound guy. "Back when I got started, the amps didn't have all these sliders and things. They had three knobs: Bass, Treble, and Volume." he said. "Pretend the amp has dials, volume, bass, and treble. Make the EQ flat, push up the bass, turn up the treble to get that edge, turn the volume up, and then take a nap. I'll do the rest from here."

Dale spent a few minutes speaking with the crowd about the tour, the recording they did at Sun Records in Memphis that morning and his desire to be a country singer like Johnny Cash or Glen Campbell. He then broke into an interesting version of the Johnny Cash tune "Ring of Fire," which found Dale singing the chorus and playing the verses on his guitar. After that he seamlessly shifted into a phenomenal reworking of the Ray Charles' classic "What'd I Say" followed by Eddie Cochran's "Summertime Blues."

I had never seen Dick Dale perform before, and was anticipating a workshop in surf guitar from the best in the business. The last thing I expected was a set that took jamming into territory that even Umphrey's McGee would fear to tread. Dale and his band went from surf rock to R&B to 12-bar blues and back again without missing a beat.

I knew that Dale was an accomplished musician, but didn't expect to see him take a turn on some sweet blues harp, play Sam Bolle's bass strings with drumsticks while Bolle fretted the notes or join Dusty Watson on the drums for a "How to Play a Bo Diddley Beat" clinic.

Speaking of the band, Bolle and Watson were a pure rhythm machine. Bolle plays with a fluidity that rivals Stanley Clarke and Watson's drumming makes Dave Lombardo's fastest runs look like a leisurely stroll. Both of these guys spent the entire evening matching Dale note for note, even when he decided to change what song they were playing partway through.

Dale is one of those guitarists that you can identify with a single note. I'm sure that part of it has to do with his unique playing style: He is a southpaw and plays a left-handed guitar strung backwards, which adds a dynamic most other guitarists can't achieve. The tone that he draws from his rig is insanely thick and just this side of decomposing into feedback. There is not another guitarist on the planet that can make a spring reverb tank splat like Dick Dale -- I got chills every time it happened.

This was the last show Dale played for this tour. As he prepared to leave the stage, he thanked the sound and light technicians, his roadies, his band and the fans for letting him do what he loves to do. His parting message to the crowd was "You are my medicine." It was nice to hear a musician speak of his fans the way the fans speak of the musician. We spent the evening as one big, reverb-drenched happy family, and we all know that there isn't a lot that feels better than that.

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