Dick Dale is the grandfather of surf-rock, if your grandfather dressed like a 70-year-old Steven Segal, practically invented heavy metal (his 100-watt amp goes all the way to eleventy) and turned a traditional Greek song into a 1960s anthem. Like most grandfathers, he's mawkish as hell, full of "back in my day" platitudes and at times, downright mischievous.
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Aftermath considers Dale (along with Les Paul) one of the two guitar gods in the bicameral house of rock. Paul died in 2009 at the age of 94, and we'll be damned if we let Dale get away without seeing him at least once. It seems we aren't the only ones -- his show last night at the House of Blues' Bronze Peacock room was packed to the gills, with teenagers and Dale's contemporaries alike there to pay respect to the man who invented surf guitar. Name any hit from the '50s or '60s and Dale probably played it, with his own fuzzy spin and gravelly voice. (There's a reason most of his music was instrumental.) "House of the Risin' Sun," "Folsom Prison Blues," "What'd I Say," "Fever" and "Smoke on the Water" segueing seamlessly into "Peter Gunn." He won Aftermath over by playing Mel Tormé's "Comin' Home" and our favorite surf song ever, "Sloop John B," and none of these songs sounded like the versions you're used to hearing. And then, of course, he played "Miserlou," the Greek folk song that twice launched him to fame -- first in the '60s, and then again when Pulp Fiction was released in 1994. (Hear the traditional version here.) "I like to play tricks on the band," he said after the first few songs. "I've never followed a list in my life on stage. Some bands, you know what time it is by what they play." Indeed, Dale's backup band -- drummer and bassist -- kept close eyes on him for signals to slow it down, speed it up or just keep on truckin', while Dale made everything else look effortless. His drummer in particular was especially keen to Dale's fluctuations. It was almost as fun watching them try to keep up as it was to watch him.
Dale clearly connects with his crowd from the stage, handing out his trademark picks to audience members, chatting with a teenager who was right up in front and telling the crowd "You are bitchin'!" between switching from harmonica to drums to trumpet. He literally winked at Aftermath as we held our camera to our face. We overheard one guy in the crowd lament "There's something wrong with paying $80 to see George Thorogood and paying $20 to see him." At the end of the show, Dale thanked his band for putting up with him, then thanked the crowd in what may have been a rehearsed line, but was nonetheless touching. "You are my... my medicine." There's a Hawaiian word, ohana, that's used in surf slang to mean something along the lines of brotherhood, camaraderie. Towards the end of the show, right after Dale played "Miserlou," a frenetically dancing woman behind us slammed into our giant camera bag and then started apologizing profusely. "I'm sorry!" she yelled excitedly over hoots from the crowd. "I'm just having SUCH A GOOD TIME!!!" No worries. So were we.