Dick Dale (live, 4 April 2010)

To the Luminaire last night for a rare performance by 72-year-old surf guitar legend Dick Dale (haven’t heard of him? You probably heard his music in Pulp Fiction).

The usual weekend upgrade work meant the Jubilee Line was closed. A 20 minute walk in the rain from Kilburn Park wasn’t ideal, but hey – it’s for Dick Dale, right?

The tiny Lumi was full of a mixed, excited crowd – old rockers, metalheads, 20 and 30 something indie kids – by the time Rhonda, Matt, Alex and I got there, just before the main support act. SmallGang were an interesting choice to support Dick Dale; being more of an indie-rock outfit. Opinion was wildly divided: Alex couldn’t stand them, Matt thought they were great, and I was somewhere in-between. Given the right kind of luck, I could see them being big – there’s definitely an audience for their Snow Patrol/Bloc Party/Interpol style tunes. That stuff doesn’t really grab me, but I can’t deny that they did it well. What might lift them above the mundane is the presence of two singer-guitarists. I’m guessing each singer sings his own compositions. Those sung by the second singer have more to them, a sort of edgy, angular sound that reminds me of Pavement. They’re on Youtube (Wrong Side; Cockpit) and MySpace (listing Will Oldham, the Smiths, Smog, Beefheart, Wilco and others as influences, which I couldn’t really hear, but whatdoiknow?).

A short wait spent arguing the merits of SmallGang was followed by a burst of distorted lead guitar from offstage, and a drummer and bassist took their places on stage, before DD himself strode through the curtain. The crowd went mental and DD launched into his set. He kicked off with some of the old style surf guitar instrumentals, before switching to covers of classic tunes, twisted up and spat out with his signature tremolo picking. He ranged over the whole range of 20th century American popular music: Fever, Smoke on the Water, House of the Rising Sun, and, gloriously, California Sun, heavier even than the Ramones version, which had me jumping around with a huge grin on my face. He bantered with the crowd, he improvised constantly (the drummer and bassist were basically following along with his shouted directions, as he played) and he finished 90 minutes later with a version of Amazing Grace that nearly had me in tears. Breathtaking.

About simonchamberlain

New Zealand librarian and music fan, living in London.
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