The Dictators fucken rock. I have some other stuff I wanna work through in this mini diatribe, but just in case you lose sight of where this rambling monologue is going and become disorientated, bear this in mind and cling to it in the darkness if you get desperate: the Dictators fucken rock.
First off, I have to admit that my evening didn't start out nearly as well as it ended. I was on a freebie (and a mission from God), so I arrived well before the first support band had finished setting up. Now how's this for irony - I front up to the door bitch, tell her I'm on the guest list, give her my name, she checks the list and... No, you're not on my list pal. For the first time in months I'm in time to catch the first band on the bill and they're not going to let me in!
Unfortunately there's no one around yet from the organisation promoting these shows to help me straighten out this mess and even when she tells me that she's also knocked back a guy claiming to be from Revolver, who wasn't on the guest list either although he was equally adamant that he should have been, it is cold comfort at best. I retire to the adjacent bar, from where it sounds like the Sneekers are playing a tremendous set (fast power pop with a hard edge, tight harmonies over chiming guitars), while I stare morosely into my beer.
After about half an hour I front her again, but there's no change in her attitude, nor have any of the promoter's representatives manifested themselves amongst us or otherwise made their presence known. Just as things are looking their bleakest, Damien Lovelock strolls by and I throw caution to the wind and make an attempt to trade on the rapport we've built up over the years.
"Sure", says Damo after listening patiently to my tale of woe and pleas to be put in touch with the promoter, "What's your name again?". So much for our close rapport, but he does speak to the door bitch on my behalf and when she remains intractable he resolves the situation by simply putting my name on the Rifles' guest list. Damo you living legend! As Major Bloodknock would say, "God bless you are sir, you've done me a power of good!". Come to think of it, Bloodknock's catch phrase was more along the lines of, "I don't know who you are sir, but you've done me a power of good!". Strange fellow, the old major.
However I'm not out of the woods yet. My freebie was supposed to be a "plus one". I don't get too many freebies and even less plus ones, though I usually still end up going on my own and even having to explain to the promoter that, being a self-appointed critic, I don't actually have any friends (that's unless my mate Frank is interested, but I rarely seem to get freebies to bands he likes or at times that fit in with his hectic schedule of drinking and abusing his employers and co-workers). This time however, I had invited someone to partake of that precious plus one, so I have to hang around the door to try to smooth things over. Waiting, waiting... Till the Sneekers' set ends and it becomes clear that she's stood me up, which in the circumstances was probably about the best outcome I could have hoped for this evening.
This is the Dictators' first Sydney show and the audience is chock full of the usual suspects, like Bill Gibson, Brad Shepherd, Ray Ahn, Paul Cronk (from the much missed Knucklehead)... and some guy who lately has been making it his mission in life to insert himself into every picture I take, despite which he has not yet seen himself in a photograph on any of the walls of this Bar (nor is he ever likely to); no, not even the toilets. No hard feelings, but that's just the way things are mate. Being the Manly Fishos, the audience also includes a couple of regular cunts from that part of the world, but I'll get to them later.
When the Rifles come on, they're in pretty good humour and sound pretty tight, but a little restrained. They start with "Let's Do It Again" and their set is studded with recent, diamond hard gems like "Storm" and "I Shoulda", older gems like "Kev The Head" and obvious future gems like "(Welcome To) Buttland" from the forthcoming album, but there's no "Jesus On TV", "Electravision Mantra", "Wonderful Life" or "Back In The Red" tonight. We do however get a lengthy, brooding workout of "Oceanshore", seemingly as popular with the rest of the crowd as it is with me, and the closing "Bill Bonney Regrets" certainly gets everyone shakin' their favourite body parts.
I guess the Rifles don't feel any need to drag out the really big guns and try to upstage the 'Tators tonight. The Fishos is their home turf and they know they're giving good value for money, as does the audience, who nevertheless are themselves a trifle more restrained than usual to begin with this evening. Later when the Dictators come on, a surprisingly large number of audience members will turn out to know all the words to all their songs, but in the meantime there are still plenty of punters in the audience who also know the words to the Rifles' songs and as the set progresses aren't shy about singing along either, but there is none of the extravagant moshing which is often a feature of Rifles Fishos shows.
In the final break before the Dictators come on, I'm accosted by a guy from Melbourne who's just arrived after a flying taxi ride from Newtown. He's up here for the Metro show tomorrow night, sleeping on a mate's couch to cut costs. This is after having seen both the shows in Melbourne - he reckons they fucken rock. So he and his mate are both at home watching TV while getting stuck into the piss and he picks up this week's Drum Media off the floor, scans through the adverts and sees that the Dictators are also playing here tonight (something his mate has failed to mention - an egregious omission). "Fuck, what are we sittin' around here for then?", he's mused to himself and his mate in an excellent example of the Socratic method of philosophical discourse and enquiry (or maybe it's the Platonic method? No, wait a minute, the Platonic method is all about not gettin' none, isn't it? Well, it was one of them Greeks anyway).
There followed a frantic phone call to see if there are any tickets left (yeah, a few) and what time the Dictators would be on (about forty minutes from now). A snap decision is made (as far as he's concerned it's just about the ultimate no brainer really); he books two tickets and he and his mate rush out into the street and flag down a passing cab, offering the cabbie double the meter if he gets them to Manly (or Manlytoba as the Handsome One immediately rechristens it once he gets to the microphone) in under forty minutes. Luckily the cabbie fully grasps the concept of keeping the pedal to the metal. Thirty five minutes and nearly eighty bucks later, they're both here and they're both seriously pumped.
He says Scott "Top Ten" Kempner wasn't at the shows in Melbourne, that somehow he missed the plane, but hopefully he'll be here in Sydney. The way I heard it, Kempner was never intending to come out for this tour (and indeed, once the tour is over, there is an official announcement on the Dictators web site that he has left the band). I know there have been some mutterings that without Kempner the Dictators are really just Manitoba's Wild Kingdom, though that "just" is completely gratuitous - the Manitoba's Wild Kingdom album shows that in that configuration these boys from Noo Yawk City still aren't too shabby when it comes to the rock, or the roll for that matter. Shortly they'll prove the point in person.
Either way, this guy is so wrapped up in his Dictators bubble I don't think I could get the message through to him, nor the fact that he's missed two great bands already (though of course he's really only one behind me), no matter how hard I tried. Even if I could, why upset the guy and ruin his shining moment of satisfaction and triumph?
He wanders off to find his mate at the bar, but comes back to make sure that there's at least one thing that I have grasped from all he's said, namely that after a quarter of a century of rockin' L.A.M.F., the Dictators still fucken rock! In a few minutes I'll be in no doubt of that myself, but for the moment I'm happy to take his word for it. Soon enough the lights dim and the Dictators make their way to the stage while the anthemic strains of "I Stand Tall" come bursting out over the P.A.
There's actually a small dressing room behind the stage (make that very small,
as in really just a large wardrobe with seating for two, or three if they're
very close friends), but the Dictators aren't using it tonight. They emerge
from the dining area at the back of the room and make their way through the
crowd, single file, to wild acclamation. The crowd magically parts to let them
through and then floods back in behind them, all the way to the stage. For those
of us already standing up close to the stage, things get very cramped and very
sweaty very quickly.
The band get straight down to it. Handsome Dick announces that "The Party Starts Now" (actually the Rifles had got the party going pretty well already, but there's obviously no stopping for impromptu debate about it now - let's just put it down to poetic licence) and we're off and running on an evening of songs made to be sung along to with your fist raised in the air, starting needless to say with "The Party Starts Now", a song by... well, Manitoba's Wild Kingdom actually. Irregardless, it doesn't take long to establish that Ross "the Boss" is capable of all the guitar playing we're going to be requiring tonight, while Andy Shernoff and J.P. "Thunderbolt" Patterson make for one fucken awesome rhythm section.
The Dictators, like the Celibate Rifles, have not only survived and gone the full distance from their punk beginnings; the music they are making today is easily on a par with the best of what they've achieved in the past. A Dictators performance is not an exercise in punk nostalgia, it's a heart pounding, foot stamping, fist raising rock event, with both audience and band rampant and unrepentant.
After about six songs every song starts to sound like something any other band would jealously hoard for its encore. Shit, can it be over already? No, not by a long chalk. It's just that the Dictators have got so much class "A" material to burn that there's no need to stockpile anything for the end of the set and the last hour of the show is effectively all encores, with newer songs like "Avenue A" and "Pussy and Money" turning out to be instant classics and taking their rightful place in the set alongside the likes of "Minnesota Strip", "Baby, Let's Twist" (a personal favourite of mine) and "Two-Tub Man", which is played as an encore (after a lengthy guitar intro during which Ross the Boss establishes unequivocally both his right and his ability to play any fucken riff he likes).
When I think of the trouble that Radio Birdman got into over "New Race", I'm amazed that the Dictators can slip "Master Race Rock" into the set and get away with it without raising an eyebrow. Of course "New Race" wasn't a neo nazi anthem (and neither is "Master Race Rock"), not that a handful of critics who'd already made up their minds about the band were ever bothered by that, not when it gave them such a convenient peg to hang their own prejudices on.
Obviously none of this is of the least concern to the Dictators. During the set Dick plugs their new CD, their back catalogue, their tee shirts, their web site, his bar (what does he say to the rest of the bar staff when he nicks off on tour? "Just off for a fortnight to conquer Australia, don't forget to lock up..."?), but ultimately the purpose of the evening is not merchandizing, it's rock'n'roll music. Sure the Dictators strike some poses and display heaps of that world famous Noo Yawk attitude, but most of all they fucken rock. They're not just keeping some feeble, flickering flame alive, they're pouring high octane fuel onto a bonfire by the gallon and the audience collectively loves every minute of it, though individuals express their adoration in different ways.
And so we come to my two nemeses. Yeah, I also thought that only a superhero got tormented by a nemesis, but I guess I'm just blessed (or cursed, depending on your religious sensibilities). First out of the blocks is the guy I mentioned before. It seems that no matter where I stand (e.g. no matter how far away from him), once I raise my camera and peek through the viewfinder, damn me if there isn't some part of his body in the frame.
Now I've only been doing this seriously (well, half seriously anyway) for a couple of years, but I've already got a pretty extensive collection of noses, ear lobes, backs of heads, tops of heads, arms, hands, fists... and that's just by accident. I don't need any help from someone doing it on purpose! However it seems like I really have accumulated photos of just about every part of his body except his dick (and boy, I'm not lookin' forward to that moment if/when it ever comes). I console myself that at least it's less annoying than getting kicked in the head by a crowd surfer.
My other nemesis is much more problematic (and in impact much closer to a kick in the head from a crowd surfer). This is the prick who pretends he's a mosher, but who really just likes jumping on other blokes who have no interest in moshing; in fact he only jumps on other blokes who aren't moshing. Unfortunately he turns up to practically every Fishos show and it doesn't take him long to get couple of other local idiots going too. Fortunately for me I'm outside his target area tonight, though down at the foot of the stage Bill Gibson is copping more than his fair share of agro and clearly isn't enjoying any of it.
Not too much later I'm pleased to see him (the prick I was talking about that is, not Bill) being dragged out by a bouncer. In one of my more evil thoughts for the week, I briefly reflect on what a pity it is that that's all that's going to happen to him; the cunt really deserves a proper kicking (a real good "shoeing" as my mate Tim used to like to say, before parenthood, middle age and a heart condition slowed him down), followed by an express trip head first down the main stairs and out into the gutter.
But that's the only real blemish on the evening (well except for being beaten to a setlist after the show by Ray Ahn). "I'm the top of the food chain!", sings an exultant Handsome Dick Manitoba in "Burn, Baby, Burn". He gets no argument from me. What else can I say to finish off this report? The Dictators fucken rock!!- John McPharlin
Beer rating? A fucken slab!
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