Wednesday, November 9, 2016
The Dictators NYC - As Good As It Gets
As good as it gets. Last night amongst more looming news, The Dictators NYC put on one of the greatest straight ahead rock 'n' roll performances I have ever witnessed. It had it all - a charismatic frontman, "Handsome" Dick Manitoba, inciting the crowd, reciting the rock poetry, and singing his ass off, Ross "The Boss" Friedman putting on a brilliant hard rock guitar clinic about a half foot from my face, JP "Thunderbolt" Patterson on ridiculously impassioned drums and hearty backup vocals, the brutal but sophisticated bass attack of Dean "The Dream" Rispler, and one of New York's finest, Daniel Rey (Hey, somebody get this guy a nickname!) on second guitar and vocals. Yes, as good as it gets.
Here's my disclaimer: I've been a big fan of The Dictators since 1975, when they unleashed Go Girl Crazy to a somewhat disinterested public. Some say The Dictators invented punk rock, and no less a connoisseur than the king of garage rock love, Steven Van Zandt (aka "Little Steven", or "Miami Steve") called the band, "The connective tissue between the eras of The MC5, New York Dolls, and the punk explosion of the mid to late 1970s." When I first heard them, I was an impressionable young guitar slinger, and I wasn't sure what the hell they were, but I knew they had balls, a great sense of humor, songs for days, chops galore, and I knew that I dug it all. Well, that all rings true to this day, and I can claim no sense of critical judgement here - I am an unabashed fan, and that's what I went looking for last night, because my soul was in need of something that would take me back to 1975, my personal summer of love. Elections be damned.
Tuesday night, small market Sacramento, first night of a tour, and the distraction of the most divisive presidential election of our lifetimes (the country's lifetime?), there were plenty of obstacles that would have seen a lesser band off their best, but from the minute they walked onstage, it was electrifying. They were unperturbed by any off the distractions, and they gave the crowd a show of a lifetime.
Before the show I spent a lot of time in some very serious conversation with Ross "The Boss" Friedman (née FUNichello - see Go Girl Crazy back cover), so much so that when he was walking to the stage I rather brazenly told my friend that in light of what was happening, I wanted him to play the show of his life (he does every night, anyway), and I'll be damned if he didn't. As I said I had positioned myself in the front row right between Friedman and Manitoba, and I witnessed what may have been the best single guitar performance I've ever witnessed. He played like his life was depending on it - brash chords with his amp set to stun, sizzling leads, and crazy fills in every space he could fit them in. I've seen just about every guitarist that ever mattered to me, I spent months just feet away from Michael Schenker when I was in his employ, and seriously, this may have been the best night of rock guitar I've seen.
Speaking of performances, "Handsome" Dick Manitoba put on a brilliant display of exactly what the world wants, needs, and desires of a frontman - he ran the show with steely determination, his usual great mix of humor and passion, and he had the audience in the palm of his hand from beginning to end. He even poked some good natured fun at Friedman about his days in the proto-power metal band, Manowar. I can't lie, there are some political differences amongst the members of The Dictators NYC, but if all America handled it as gracefully as this bunch, this day would be a little lighter and brighter for everyone. Manitoba steered his ship like an admiral on the high seas.
The setlist ran the gamut of the band's long career, and it seemed even more inclusive than in the past if I'm not mistaken, with some deep cuts not seen on previous tours. Now all we need is a new album to emerge for the next time around! The classics were in place: "The Next Big Thing", "Who Will Save Rock And Roll", "New York, New York", Pussy And Money", the always anthemic "Weekend", and many others that are still rattling around in my head this afternoon a day later.
Rounding out the band is maybe one of the finest engine room rhythm sections going. You've got JP Patterson, who is whirling dervish on the drums, and whose passion behind the kit was barely containable as he leaned into his microphone to contribute some backing vocals that are as powerful as his stick work. Then there's Dean Rispler, an in-demand New York rock record producer who also finds time for his own band, Kosmodemonic, as well as contributing his guitar work with punk rock supergroup Osaka Popstar, on some wonderful Entwistlean bass. He's super rock solid, and with a tone to die for, but he's also aces at throwing in melodic flourishes that make you grin every time. Daniel Rey needs no introduction - if you don't know, get on it, but his list of collaborations and productions includes names like The Ramones, White Zombie, Ronnie Spector, and about a thousand more notables - his co-guitar work with Friedman is stellar, he's the link in the chain that makes this an unbreakable outfit.
This was the first show of the band's annual West Coast tour, and if at all possible, you've got to see this band - it's life affirming for god sakes, everything rock is supposed to be, and whether you know it or not, you need this more than ever. They tore down the walls and defied the odds, just as they've been doing for over 40 years. God bless The Dictators NYC. As good as it gets.