Dick Dale: High Noon Saloon, 10/10/11

Tue Oct 11 2011

I thought about going to Miller Park yesterday to try and score a scalper ticket for the Brewer game, but for various reasons, I couldn’t bring myself to do it.  Probably for the best; I am, unfortunately, one of those idiots who can get extremely pessimistic when one of our millionaire pitchers gives up a two-run homer to the fourth batter he faces, then proceeds to stink up the place for his second of two postseason starts.  I suspect my interests, and the interests of anyone trying to enjoy the game, were better served by driving to Madison and catching Dick Dale; the guy is 74 and I’m on a roll the past couple of years with seeing old geezers rock out.  Dale might not have another tour left in him, and I’m sure the Brewers will get to another NLCS in my lifetime…(shudder)

You’ve probably heard the phrase “make it talk” referring to guitar players.  At first, having never seen Dale before and not being well-versed in his recorded output, I kept peering over to the side of the stage, thinking there was somebody over there with a microphone, or that audience voices were getting picked up and channeled into the P.A., but pretty soon I realized it was the guitar.  I suppose I’m sounding like a naïve punk here, but I’ve never heard anyone play guitar and make it sound that much like an actual human voice.  I can only assume that Dale lets his soul escape out through his fingers right into the strings at times.  I wonder if he even knows it’s happening.  It was a most unique, enchanting feeling for this audience member.

Having just seen Secret Chiefs 3, I kept expecting Trey Spruance to walk onstage for a guitar duel; obviously, if you play surf guitar, you can’t help but be influenced by the guy who invented it, but the similarities in the two artists’ playing styles are uncanny.  Then again, the more Dale played, the more plain the truth became: he sounds just like every one of your favorite rock and roll guitar players at some point, because he dreamed up most of the sounds they all make.  He paid loving tribute to contemporaries like Link Wray and Johnny Cash, but in truth those guys owed him their careers, just as Hendrix did.  Try to imagine your life without reverb.

He joined his son Jimmy (who was awesome)on drums for a bit, then took his sticks and banged on the bass while longtime cohort Ron Eglit (who was also awesome) manned the strings, and generally played the benevolent, energetic party host, ingratiating himself to his audience without ever seeming disingenuous or desperate.  He was funny, his words were heartfelt, and he played the most moving version of “Amazing Grace” I think I’ve ever heard--no singing, unless you count the guitar, and with the words echoing in my head I suddenly understood their meaning in a way I never had before.  These are the moments that make live music worthwhile.

Dick went straight from the stage to the merch table after the show and happily signed autographs for any and all.  In the past four years or so, I’ve seen Yoko Ono, Paul McCartney, Mavis Staples, Jimmy Cliff and Wanda Jackson put on incredible shows; add Dale to this list and I’m starting to fear old age less and less.  Or maybe it’s just that the spark of genuine innovation is a dip in the fountain of youth.  Whatever the case, I felt very blessed to have witnessed this master of music; electric guitar is his game, and he is still at the top of it.
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