Dick Dale at The Rhythm Room, 4/5/12

Dick Dale Rhythm Room Thursday, April 5, 2012

Driving to the Dick Dale concert Thursday night at the Rhythm Room it seemed, in retrospect, fitting to have Little Barrie on the stereo cranking out the title track from his new album, King of the Waves.

"You're not gonna be saved, if you're not king of the waves," Little Barrie sings. And so about two-thirds of the way through his performance, Dale starts talking about his recent battles with cancer and diabetes, battles he fought and won. King of the surf guitar... King of the waves... close enough; he's been saved to keep cranking out those familiar and influential licks just a month shy of his 75th birthday.

The 90-minute concert actually started off stage, with Dale cranking up the volume and anticipation as he ran though a few enticing surf licks while still backstage. Then, with upside down gold Strat in hand (he's a lefty), the black-clad Dale stepped through the Rhythm Room's double doors and onto the stage where he proceeded to immediately shred in vintage surf style. A few instrumental songs into the set, Dale stopped to address the crowd in what became one of many rambling story upon story that often, though not always, had something to do with the next song.

This was the pattern throughout the night: a few songs, a few longwinded tales -- at times to the exasperation of his drummer, and son, Jimmy Dale, who frequently raised eyes to the ceiling, and slowly shook his head in disbelief of what his dad was saying.

Still, the near-sellout audience ate it up (or was at least polite enough to listen) as he rambled on. "People say I talk too much," he joked at one point, though he didn't stop talking just then.

But it was Dale's playing that afforded him the liberty to talk so much. People, it seems, would put up with anything to here Dale tear it up on "Taco Wagon," "Let's Go Surfing" and "Misirlou" and any of the many classics he whipped out or combined into a blistering medley. Watching his hands still move at lightning speed was impressive, and some of his over the top of the fret-tapping would put Eddie Van Halen to shame.

What a lot of people don't realize is that Dale became the King of the surf guitar not because he played surf music, but because he invented it. He was also the first guitarist to experiment with reverberation (the key to that surf sound) and truly turn his amp up to 11. (In fact, he blew out amps so often that Leo Fender invited him to help design a better amp the Dale couldn't destroy.) That thrill of discovery is something Dale wanted to impart on his band, putting them through the paces by shifting gears in the middle of song, or pointing out who should do a solo run.

"We don't plan anything, because I don't know what I'm doing," he said. "I just make my guitar scream with pain or pleasure."

His guitar, nicknamed The Beast, did plenty of screaming, and Dale worked it to full effect. Dale also wandered away from the surfside, covering Johnny Cash's "Folsom Prison Blues," "House of the Rising Sun," (with vocals, one of the few non-instrumentals) and Deep Purple's "Smoke on the Water," while touching on pieces of Jimi Hendrix and the Beatles. Everything had plenty of reverb and was seriously revved up -- loud, hard, fuzzy and fast -- in a that signature Dick Dale style.

The evening closed out with a lengthy medley which began with "Pipeline," included some of the above covers, plus the "Peter Gunn" theme song. Dale paused only long enough to say thanks before tearing into "Misirlou," to great audience rapture. The song, Dale's first big hit, is more recently known for the John Travolta/Uma Thurman dance scene in Pulp Fiction. Dale, of course, "wiped" his brow double-finger style ala Thurman between licks. It was a fitting end as Thurman's character too survives a near-death experience. "Thank you," Dale said before walking off stage. "You are my medicine."

Critic's Notebook:

Last Night: Dick Dale, King of the surf guitar

Personal bias: The man's a guitar legend (he has an award to prove it), and, at almost 75, his is a must-see-while-you-can show.

The crowd: Many in the crowd may have seen Dale in concert when he was first starting out in the 1950s, though there was also a sprinkling of younger fans.

Random notebook dump: Looks damn good for 75 and still plays like a banshee.

Overheard: At the bar, "I saw him when I was 6. I remember it being loud."

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