(Artwork care of Karen Ramsay (www.karenramsay.com), profile photo care of brianlackeyphotography.com)

Thursday, July 5, 2012

Concert review - Dick Dale with Bonnie and the Clydes

4 July 2012 (Aggie Theatre, Ft. Collins CO)

The Aggie was double booked on the 4th. Lucero's show at the Mishawaka Amphitheatre was moved to a late night slot at the Aggie and the Dick Dale show was pushed earlier. The doors opened at 6pm, but the real surprise was that the opening act took the stage at 6:30 pm. The quick start time surprised a lot of us.

Bonnie and the Clydes brought a strong, classic country sound to the stage. They didn't aspire to flashy technical chops, but their tight arrangements showed their dedication. The band's real strength was recognizing that entertainment is about more than just hitting the notes.

Bonnie Sims was a perfect centerpiece for the band. She had a big, friendly personality and a relaxed stage presence that clicked with the audience, even though they weren't all country fans. She rounded out the package with good instrumental skills and a very strong, expressive voice. While she was charismatic enough to eclipse the rest of the band, each member found their own way to stand out and connect as well.

Fiddle player Nancy Steinberger added sweet vocal harmonies and some tasteful instrumental lines. Drummer Jason Pawlina projected a cheery aura along with the solid beats. Bass player Michael Schenkelberg naturally gravitated to wherever the action was on stage and injected his personality. Taylor Sims was a bit more reserved on lead guitar. He had some good twangy leads, but he often seemed pleasantly surprised he pulled off his parts. This endeared him to the crowd.

Taken as a whole, the band seemed very conscious of their stage blocking. The players shifted to follow the lead as it was tossed from guitar to fiddle to vocals. That pulled the audience's attention to the action and built it higher.

I liked their original songs -- they have a new album coming out in the next couple of weeks -- but some of their interesting cover choices made the biggest impression. Their version of Patsy Cline's I Fall To Pieces was fairly straightforward. The tempo was skosh quicker, but Bonnie Sim's singing hit those deep opening notes and captured Cline's expressive vocal crack. On the other hand, their cover of Bob Dylan's Gotta Serve Somebody drifted further from the original. I've heard soulful versions, but this is the first dark country rock version I've come across. Sims' powerful voice had more in common with Etta James than Dylan's original, but that was fine.

The pause between the sets was shattered by a wicked flurry of guitar notes assaulting our ears from offstage. The band took the stage first. Then Dick Dale strolled out, still laying out his patented reverb-soaked, overdriven guitar shred. This dramatic start was Dale's way of reminding us that he is the King of Surf Guitar. The bombast also made it hard to believe that he is 75 years old. The initial blast of speed and fury kicked off a breakneck pace for the set.

The band's line up featured Sam Bolle (Agent Orange) on bass and Dick's son Jimmy Dale on drums. Their high energy playing transcended "power trio" to be more of a "superpower trio". Bolle's bass had a punk energy, but enough flash to stand up to Dale's guitar. Jimmy Dale was a powerhouse on drums, banging out tight driving fills and rumbling kickdrum rolls. Although Dick occasionally tossed in some chords, the band had no need for a rhythm guitarist. Bolle's thick bass sound and Dale's wailing guitar saturated that sonic space with ease.

Ever the master showman, Dick Dale owned the stage, staying in near constant motion. With a theatrical gesture, he'd toss energy at the bass and drums for their solos. Then, with a big flourish, he'd blindly tap out harmonic notes on his fretboard with deadly accuracy. Dale's relationship with his Fender Stratocaster was expressive, one moment he'd coax it, then he'd shift to wrest sound out of it like it's a living beast

The songs were often extended medleys. Pipeline slid into Ray Charles' What'd I Say, with the crowd already ready to follow Dale's vocal cues. Then, after a hint of California Sun, the song ran through Summertime Blues, Smoke on the Water, and The Peter Gunn Theme. With each new twist, the jam kept expanding.

This flow allowed Dale to hit most of the crowd favorites along the set, including the classic Miserlou, Nitro, The Eliminator, and House of the Rising Sun (with Dale on vocals!).

The climax of the set was the drum solo duet from Dick and Jimmy Dale. The pair meshed together with the elder Dale focusing on the toms and Jimmy working the snare and kick, but their riffs interlocked as they crossed drums. Then, Dick came to the front of the stage with his sticks. As Bolle presented Dale his bass like a sacrificial offering, Dale started drumming out notes. Bolle fretted the notes while Dale tapped out a fast, fluid melodic solo. Then he flipped the bass and Dick played the back, generating an echoey, rumbling tune. Occasionally, Dale reached a stick underneath to slide a note on the neck before punctuating the line with a final tap. Even having seen Dale do this before, this was phenomenal -- a stunning visual and sonic showpiece.

Even after bouts with cancer and reaching 75, the legendary Dale still refuses to compromise on his show or music. He and his amazing band cranked through about a full hour of music that left the crowd exhausted but happy.

More photos on my Flickr.

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