Review: Surf Guitar God Dick Dale Stays Strong

At the age of 70, Dick Dale is still bitchin'. Ah, what the heck.

Let's make that biiiiiiitchin'.

Growing up, that's what Dick would call something, or someone, that is extraordinarily good. So the adjective fits when describing the king of the surf guitar.

Earlier this month Dick brought his unique sound to The Birchmere in Alexandria. The setting wasn't perfect for a Dick Dale show, as the audience was seated and, well, full of gray hair. A normal show would include crowds flocking to the stage and begging to touch his magical ... guitar.

But despite that setback, Dick still put on one heck of a show. At the age of 70, one might expect a kinder, gentler frontman. But even though he played 38 shows in the previous 42 days, Dick went all out -- he even apologized after the first few songs because it might have been a bit too loud for most of his audience.

With his trademark ponytail and leather jacket in tow, Dick rocked out some of his favorite tunes -- not just his own surf specialties, but his own personal favorites, such as a robust rendition of "House of the Rising Sun."

When you go to a Dick Dale show, you always have to be prepared for the unexpected. The first time I saw him, a good six or seven years ago in Pittsburgh, one of the longtime Dick Dale followers (who are lovingly referred to as "Dickheads") wandered through the audience meeting and greeting everyone he could. Wearing his own leather jacket and ponytail in tribute, he started passing out sparkly stickers that said "No Bar Too Far". Why? I have no idea. But he was a nice guy, so I accepted his offering. And wouldn't you know it, by the end of the night he worked his way up to the front of the stage and plastered one of those damn stickers on Dick's guitar. What a Dickhead. Oh, and I still have my sticker tucked away in my wallet as a keepsake.

The next time I saw a Dick Dale show was in Columbus, Ohio. This time Dick surprised the audience by coming down off stage and walking through the crowd while playing the "Peter Gunn" theme song. But he didn't stop there. He continued to the back of the venue, through the doors and out onto High Street. Yeah, that's right. He just walked outside with his guitar, much to the surprise of all the drunken students on Ohio State's main drag. You just don't see that every day.

As you can tell, each Dick Dale show is memorable. After his first few songs at The Birchmere, Dick said he had "something special" planned for later on in the show. Nice!

But first the guitar god showed off his skill set. Not only does Dick play guitar during his shows, but he also shows off his talent on a horn. And then there's the drum display. Dick likes to join in on a drum solo and then use the drum sticks to play band mate Sammy's bass guitar. It's wicked awesome.

That led to the show's "special" moment. Dick walked over to the piano and sat down. He wanted to involve the audience, so he decided to try a game he played with his mother many years ago. The audience picked out four numbers and Dick picked out the coordinating keys on the piano, and then created an impromptu song out of it. While it took quite a while to set it up, it was well worth it. It's pretty safe to say the audience was taken aback by how well Dick tickled the ivory, and was another moment fans won't forget.

After another couple of songs, Dick went back to the guitar and rocked out on "Miserlou" (yeah, it's the Pulp Fiction song). By that time he was already about 30 minutes past the show's scheduled end. That didn't stop him, though, as he thrashed a few more of his favorites, talked about a new reality show he was making with his son, Jimmy, and played an impressive rendition of "Amazing Grace." Dick says he's playing it at every show "until the troops come home." Good stuff.

All in all, it was a memorable night. At age 70, Dick continues to put on a high-energy performance. While the venue might not have been perfect, he made the most of it.

That's what makes Dick Dale so special. He loves what he does and gives his best every time out.


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