Last week, Richard and I were horrified to learn that The Dictators were playing in Hollywood on the same night as James Williamson! How unfair could the universe be to make us choose between these two rock legends? It was time for a creative solution – fuck Hollywood, we’ll go see The Dictators a week earlier at Alex’s Bar in Long Beach!
The proto-punk lords of New York City did not disappoint. The line-up has of course changed since the first album in 1975, but the tight knit gang of ass-kickers that blasted off this tour on Wednesday night left no doubt in anyone’s mind hat they will rock the shit out of the left coast before they go back home, hopefully to write a new record.
Lead singer Handsome Dick Manitoba is the definition of New York City bravado. He’s a punk rock Travis Bickle with a proud Jewish star around his neck and a look on his face that’s entertaining and terrifying all in the same fuck you smirk. Unlike lots of rock singers, you can hear every word he sings in his snarky Bronx accent, and in case you might have missed the meaning, he’s got hand gestures for just about everything to hit the point home. There is no question about whether you will be entertained. He’s reaching into the audience regularly to grab you by the throat and pull you into the take-home message: rock and roll is everything.
The Dictators NYC lineup (the NYC is added to differentiate between the original lineup with Andy Shernoff) includes founding member Ross the Boss (Manowar) on guitar, Daniel Rey (3-time Ramones record producer) on guitar, multi-talented Dean Rispler on bass and JP “Thunderbolt” Patterson on drums. This was the first show of their tour, but it seemed like they’d been on the road for weeks.
Choreographed showmanship, audience participation, Rispler giving everyone the finger and mouthing ‘fuck you’ to each individual person in the audience (while 20 minutes earlier selling us merch with the sweetest demeanor you’ve ever witnessed) – they had it all!
They opened with New York, New York, and played so many greats – The Next Big Thing (with the riff on it that the Ramones took for I Just Wanna Have Something To Do), Baby Let’s Twist, Cars & Girls, Who Will Save Rock & Roll and Avenue A, which was prefaced by an entertaining diatribe about how the East Village has been completely ruined by gentrification. You know it’s all over when you see a Range Rover / And to my bodega, I say hasta luego. I think this was also the point where Handsome Dick asked the audience if there was anyone in their 20’s in the room. Three people shouted.
They did The Flaming Groovies’ Slow Death with a soaring guitar jam at the end – our new friend Greg Morrison from Crawl Unit took an amazing video of this, which hopefully he’ll send me at some point and I’ll put it here. Last but certainly not least was Stay With Me, which is a song Richard covers and also happens to have the most fun back-up vocals to sing, as evidenced by everyone in the room singing along that night.
One guy in the audience was desperately trying to start a mosh pit. He was six-foot-four and skinny, with a black eye. He cleared a space the size of a small school bus within seconds with his oi-style skip, much to the annoyance of all the 50-something punk rockers who were rolling their eyes with bubbles over their heads saying, ‘been there, done that.’ As someone who’s been hurt standing near the pit as a teenager, all those lessons came instantly back to me. If you go down, roll away from the pit! Don’t go back for your earrings until after the encore!
Speaking of encores, their farewell tunes were the absolutely unforgettable Two-Tub Man during which Handsome Dick made long-winded hilarious introductions of the band, and The MC5’s Kick out the Jams. My only disappointment was that they didn’t play I Am Right, but mosh pit guy probably would have killed us all.
I’d been hearing about Alex’s Bar in Long Beach ever since I moved here in 2005. Every time a punk rock band comes to town they play somewhere in Hollywood or Silverlake / Echo Park / Downtown and then always Alex’s Bar in Long Beach. Miraculously I hadn’t checked it out until Wednesday night. It did not disappoint – it’s everything you would expect from a punk rock beach town bar, complete with a display of punk rock skateboards. The crowd was so comfy – a treat for me to see women in sneakers and boots instead of high heels.
Another highlight was meeting Legs McNeil (Punk Magazine, Please Kill Me) and poet and co-author of Please Kill Me Gillian McCain in the parking lot. Apparently Legs McNeil started Punk Magazine so he could hang out with the Dictators. And apparently that worked out for him. I told them about my upcoming trip to Africa where Ava will be doing seminars about sex and relationships, eliciting some hilarious riffs with hand gestures from Legs (can I call him Legs?) about what these lessons might entail…. Thanks for the intro John Kastner!
Long Beach isn’t that far away. I’d skip Hollywood to see a show there anytime, especially the ever-ruling Dictators! We’re all going under the thunder of Manitoba!!!