Friday, January 13, 2012

Still the king of the surf guitar: Dick Dale live at Hell's Kitchen

A couple of weeks ago Tim sent out an e-mail announcing that surf guitarist Dick Dale was playing Hell's Kitchen in Tacoma, a tiny club on Pacific Avenue.  Should we go?  I hemmed and hawed-it was a school night, a night I had to run to Seattle to pick up the school paper-I foresaw a very difficult day after.  In the end I decided to go for it, and I'm glad I did.
Still the king of the surf guitar, Dick Dale brought his collection of tube amps and considerable skill to Tacoma on Thursday night.
I met Tim and Patrick and Michelle for drinks and dinner at the  1022 bar and headed for Hell's Kitchen.  It was my first trip to that club.  It's in a new location.  I like the performance area, but the bar area is just silly-a virtual pen, impossible to spend time talking or sit with those who aren't drinking.

 Graceland 5 and the Coloffs were adequate fill ins for the main event, but nothing special .  Local favorites Girl Trouble played a short, entertaining set before Dale took the stage.  I'd go see their locally influenced brand of Northwest rock without a big headliner.

Dale and his band stepped on stage just after 11:00, only an hour and half after my bed time.  It didn't matter.  Pat, Michelle and I already crept up to the front of the room during sound check and we were encamped in the first row of bodies, center stage.  We would have a terrific view of the show.

Dick took the stage with his young bassist and son Jimmy Dale on drums.  They played a ninety minute set that was simply outstanding.  Though he occasionally lost track of his mental set list (doesn't come on stage with a written set) and once or twice had his timing off, Dale at age 74 remains a formidable performer.  Playing a left handed Stratocaster he perversely strings upside down, Dale played all the favorites: Ghost Riders in the Sky, Misirlou, Pipeline, Rumble and many more.  He remains fast, and his double picking technique was clearly visible (chiefly because we were rarely more than six feet from his hands.) Though Dale's voice can best be described as thin, he kept the crowd involved in choruses to House of the Rising Sun and Fever (??!!)  It was great to see the interaction between the elder Dale and his two younger bandmates, and I learned a lot about the integral role of bass in surf music.  You just can't be a shrinking violet when you're playing on stage with the king, 'cause he'll blow you right off.
Dale duels with his young bassist on stage.  Dale wins all of 'em.

Dale's Strat.  He activates his pick-ups with a toggle switch on the faceplate.  No whammy bar or pedals.

This is how close I was.  The Stratocaster head was often two feet from my face.
Pat's watching while Dale is just a bit upstage.  That's how close we were.
In all, it was a great night.  The music was great, and I survived the day after on four hours sleep and dramatic (temporary, I hope) hearing loss.  With Dale at 74 and suffering from colon cancer, it's important to take these opportunities while they are there.

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