Well how about another concert review? Sure, why not…

For those of you not familiar with Asheville’s club scene, Jack Of The Wood is probably a name you’ve never heard before. It’s a bar with an Irish theme and its own brewery. They’ve been hosting live music for a long time now, with bluegrass jams and Celtic bands being some of the more common shows. I heard through the grapevine that recently they’ve hired a new guy to do their booking, and evidently he has some pretty serious connections. So now this tiny little hole in the wall pub is getting big name acts like Junior Brown, Jim Lauderdale, Peter Case (who cancelled), and the King Of Surf Guitar, Mr. Dick Dale. Tickets sold out in only a few days, and to say it was “standing room” only would be quite the understatement. You barely had room to stand without bumping into someone. I’m pretty sure if anyone else showed up there would be a few fire code violations. But enough about that, let’s talk about the music…

The opening band was a local act called The Krektones. They’ve resisted the label of “surf rock,” yet in a pre-show “prayer” their guitarist acknowledged Dick Dale as their “heavenly father, who sits in glory in California.” Aside from a few random yells, shouts, oohs and ahs, and banter in between songs their set was mostly instrumental. Their guitarist is quite good, bringing a bit of a psychobilly vibe to their surf rock sound. They had a guy who switched back and forth between trumpet and sax, and occasionally screamed random things into his instrument mic. Their rhythm section was pretty tight, even if they were usually overshadowed by the guitar and horns. They did some original songs, a few well-known covers, and a lot of movie themes. On the latter they sounded almost like a more restrained version of Naked City, minus the hardcore breakdowns and free-form improvisation. Their set was rather enjoyable, I might have to go see them the next time they’re playing around town.

In between the bands DJ Rob Castillo spun 60’s surf hits and obscure garage rock, playing a great selection of stuff. The break seemed to be longer than The Krektones’ entire set – there seemed to be some technical difficulties with the microphone setup. Finally at about 10:20 the headliner took the stage to thunderous applause.

Dick Dale is now 74 years old, with a long white ponytail and an almost fully receded hairline, but once he starts playing you would never know it. After his opening shred-fest, he spent a few minutes fussing at the sound guy to make the microphone louder. He was actually quite hilarious in doing so, asking the guy if he knew where the volume knob was, and then graciously informing him that it had a big “v” on it. He did a song with a call-and-response section and stopped in the middle because he still couldn’t hear himself. It could be a bad sound tech, it could be an aging rocker losing his hearing, but the most likely reason is that his music is just that loud. I’m talking thunderously loud. Even when playing with a clean tone his guitar is pushed into overdrive, stacks of custom Fender amps shaking the entire stage. His bass player’s stack was just as big and the bottom end was huge. His drummer (who I’m guessing is his son? his name was Jimmy Dale) pounds the drums as if his life depends on it. Whether ripping through power chords or soloing at breakneck speed, it’s pretty safe to say that Dick Dale is the most energetic 74-year-old in the music world.

He played most of his biggest songs, along with an interesting selection of covers. He threw in a few famous surf riffs (“Walk Don’t Run” and “Wipeout”) but never played them long enough for the audience to latch onto them. Most of his songs were long jams that took unexpected turns into other songs and styles before coming back to their original riffs. To my surprise he actually sung on a few songs, most notably a bluesy version of “House of the Rising Sun.” At one point he did a monster medley based around the signature riff to “Smoke on the Water” that must have lasted six or seven minutes, incorporating a lot of snippets of classic rock songs. For one song he played harmonica, and while he’s not the greatest, the energy level remained high the entire time. The next to the last song was a crazy jam where everyone got a solo, and then he walked over to the drum set and performed a drum duet with his drummer. He then walked around to the bassist and began to hit the strings of his bass with drumsticks while the bassist fingered chords. Then he flipped the bass over and tapped out a rhythm on the back of it while the bassist got in some ghost notes and slides. The closing number was another extended jam, full of soloing and huge walls of sound.

It was pretty easy to see why Dick Dale is so legendary in the guitar community – the guy can play circles around just about anyone else. His energy is intense, and he’s got a great sense of humor to go with a stage presence that is at once imposing and understated. Even though the show was pretty amazing, a few things really disappointed me. For starters, his set was entirely too short. He barely played an hour, whereas the opening band went on for around forty-five minutes and the break in between was about that long as well. I understand he’s not a young man, and sometimes there are technical difficulties and whatnot – not to mention local noise ordinances – but if I’m going to pay big bucks to see a legendary artist, I’d like a little bit more bang for my buck. Secondly, there was no encore. I realize there’s no rule that says a performer must do an encore, but still it is mostly expected. At first I thought that’s why his set was so short – surely he would be coming back on stage to do a few more songs. After waiting around for almost half an hour it became apparent that this wasn’t happening. By the time I finally left he was comfortably signing autographs at a table where a long line had formed. And this was my final disappointment – it was clear that he embraced his rock star status and turned it into a moneymaking machine. He had all the usual merchandise, and I definitely don’t fault a musician for wanting to make money… but the prices were outrageous. Shirts were $40, signed records were $100, signed CD’s were $35. There were tiny 3″ x 5″ postcards for $15, posters of the show for $20, and if you brought something of your own he would kindly sign it for the low, low price of only $10. I’ve seen a lot of big-name artists, and quite a few “living legends,” but I have never once seen anyone charge to sign something you already had. Like I said, I don’t fault the guy for wanting to make money, but surely he could at least sign things for free. Maybe this sort of thing is more common than I realize, and he obviously plays with a lot of emotion and a genuine love of performing, but his merch table made it look like this was purely a business venture, and business was most certainly good.

Overall I had a good time, and I love Dick Dale the guitarist. I’m just not so sure how I feel about him as the CEO of Dick Dale Enterprises. So what I’m ultimately left with is a night of great music, albeit not quite enough of it, and a final sour taste in my mouth. And a constant ringing in my ears because this show was so incredibly loud. On that note I think I’ll wrap this up and attempt to get some sleep so I can wake up in a few hours for work.