Sunday, May 18, 2014

Dictators NYC @ CHI

I can't comment on the fractious relationship between Handsome Dick Manitoba and Andy Shernoff, as I have no idea what's going on between them off the social media radar. I can only say that the clutch of Shernoff's songs that the Dictators NYC played last night at the Empty Bottle are so strong and sturdy that Shernoff's absence is barely felt. (I'm accustomed now to Scott "Top Ten" Kempner's having gone periodically missing.) Simply put: these guys want to work, and clubs still draw the twenty- to -fifty-something-aged fans who want to see them. Manitoba was in fine form last night, his belly a bit rounder, his voice in terrific shape, his between song banter still funny and galvanizing. He bitched about fat guys in Manhattan wearing shorts and flip flops and rocking brand-new calf tattoos. He praised the blue-ness of Gatorade, complained about Chicago pot holes. He mocked Chicago baseball fans for having endured a century-plus of futility; this was greeted by a rousing, argumentative White Sox! White Sox! cheer by (a third of) the crowd. (Nice for this Sox fan, who throatily joined in.)

Manitoba and Dictators vets Ross the Boss and Thunderbolt Patterson are augmented these days by longtime New York City musician/producer/guitarist and band pal Daniel Rey and new bass player Dean Rispler. It's always amusing to me to watch Rey—he's a great, confident guitarist, riffing and soloing with flair, but he strikes poses as if he thinks that's what he should so onstage; he looks a bit distracted, introverted, and that's one of the charming things about him. Ross was the Boss—shredding and cocky, tethering the band's garage, punk, and power pop sources to metal mania in the blend that the band perfected decades ago. Rispler, the new kid, was having a lot of fun, mock-marching in place to the songs' stomp, mouthing an accusatory "lame, lame" while frowning at the crowd, and flipping the bird more times that I could count. When Manitoba introduced the band, he took a swing at Shernoff, relating how nice it is to finally be onstage with a bass player with whom he likes to play. Baiting the crowd, Manitoba barked, "You think I'm a nice guy? I spend all my time on Facebook destroying people!" He turned to Rispler and assured him, "They're not booing, they're saying, Deeeaaan."

Funny stuff, and any ill will was vaporized by the band's confident roar through their classics "The Party Starts Now," "Master Race Rock," "Stay With Me," "Faster and Louder," "Who Will Save Rock & Roll," "New York, New York," "Two Tub Man," and the rest. (They closed with a tear through the MC5's "Kick Out The Jams.") Manitoba—more liberated than I've ever seen him—jumped into the crowd during "Savage Beat" and stayed there for the whole song, grinning and sharing the mic, pummeled and tossed around good-naturedly by drunk kids and oldsters. The crowd was terrific. It was a very beery night. I was up front the whole night and left covered in Hamm.

Ross the Boss

Ross, HDM, Rispler
And yet Shernoff's ghost was up there, no doubt, at least for this fan. This self-described "mom and pop" band wouldn't be working without Shernoff's terrific songs. It's a shame that he can't hold down the low end again, peering out at the crowd under the bill of his baseball cap and planning future master plans for his band. But the world keeps spinning, and the songs are eternal. Those fists raised aloft during "I Stand Tall" were as much a tribute to a timeless anthem as to its absent writer. D.F.F.D.


Just out: a new Dictators compilation Faster... Louder - The Dictators' Best 1975-2001 ("...for those who weren’t around in the glory days," Shernoff) and an interview with Shernoff about the history of the Dictators.

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