At first, Dick Dale peeks his face around the corner of the stage door, grinning, being coy, but then he marches onstage, guns blazing, his golden guitar already screaming. He's looking limber, arching in his New Balances, all smiles. He was a tailor, already sewing into us, then cutting us loose and letting the surge crash within us. How does he do it?
It's amazing to think that Dick Dale was this talented at guitar 60 years ago. Now, it almost seems too easy for him. He glides through each song gracefully, but at the right moments, he'll completely destroy the song. When he plays "House of the Rising Sun," getting the whole audience to sing with him, he twirls the blues standard into a distorted blur, finishing with the song in tatters.
His setup is remarkably simple: just a few amps, a bassist and a drum kit. But that's all he needs. Minimalism is the man's modus operandi. But the entire show is touch and go - as soon as he starts, the ripples move through your chest, probably lining up some solar plexus bullshit or something. It feels like a drug.
"Are your ears bleeding?" Dick says after finishing "Let's Go Trippin'." The crowd screams, yes, but my ears aren't throbbing in a bad way. In fact, it sounds downright incredible, thanks to the Musical Instrument Museum's superb acoustics, which capture the reverb perfectly.
I once spoke to Christian Bland of The Black Angels about how reverb is a kind of religion. If that's so, this was definitely like a spiritual therapy. I felt myself massaged and pampered and sent on some kind of subtropical vacation. A year's worth of stress melted away like some sort of New Age spa treatment. Let's go trippin', indeed.
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How does he do it? How am I instantly transported to beaches in Fiji, imagining thunderous lava flows and pinprick islands bobbing in Caribbean currents? Maybe it's the rash of Hawaiian shirts in the audience or the context which I'm given, but I think otherwise -- there's some kind of witchcraft in this sound Dale helped pioneer that truly is tropical.
Dale announces that he plays sans set list, a habit he's kept since 1955. "I have no idea what I'm going to play next," Dale says. "So if I start a song and don't finish, it's probably because I forgot how to finish the song."
Maybe the jokes are to soften the blows -- you don't want to be unable to move. His band was jovial, comical, readily joking back with Dick. At one point, he joins his drummer, rattling sticks in tandem, but that wasn't as impressive as when he uses the same drumsticks on the bass. Even just smacking the bass with sticks sounds good! But then he finally reached for that guitar again ... The anticipation quickly followed by the rush is what I imagine B.A.S.E. jumping to be like.
He dissolves into a slew of guitar-led songs before slowing down into "Fever." I'm impressed by how far back Dick reaches into music history, playing "Bo Diddley," "Peppermint Man," and other classics, but then I remember that Dick lived through it all. Silly me.
"These songs are coming back to me, like upchuck," Dick jokes.
It's all second nature to him. I'm also impressed by Dick's impressions, including Johnny Cash, but also various birds and animals. They were funny, but accurate.
In some way, almost 90 percent of the music that I enjoy, much of it psychedelic garage rock, this mile-high stack of albums that blisses me out, is indebted to this ONE dude. He changed so much about this music. And here he was.
I don't get into hero worship, however. Dick Dale is still just some dude in the right place at the right time who did what he did best. And he's still doing it best. But he's not a god or something. The best part, to me, is that Dick Dale is a regular fellow just like us.
Of course, to thunderous applause and a standing ovation, Dick ended the night with "Misirlou." There was no encore, but none was needed. Everyone left in high spirits, myself especially. The night was comedic, it was wistful, it was therapeutic, it was a history lesson, it was everything I never thought a show could be all at once.
Troy Farah surfs the Twitter.
Last Night: Dick Dale at the Musical Instrument Museum 4/3/15
The Crowd: With almost everyone an estimated 30 years older than us, we were the youngest couple there. I hope I'm as cool as most of these people when I go geriatric.
Shout Out To: The guy behind me who insisted on responding to Dick's stage banter like he could hear you. I do that thing where I yell at my TV, too.
Personal Bias: I've probably never seen so many people acting so thrilled after leaving a concert.
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