LIVE: The Dictators NYC/Electric River, Highbury Garage 07/08/14
Andy Close catches New York’s proto-punks The Dictators with our old friends Electric River down in Highbury.
You’ve probably heard us harping on about how good Electric River are enough of late, so let’s just say that this set was up to their usual high standards. There’s something very encouraging about going to see a band you like warming up for a more established outfit, and turning the initial reaction of general indifference with a few die-hards down the front into getting most of the venue gathered around the stage clearly enjoying themselves. And going on the evidence of tunes like Leap of Faith, Keep The Engine Burning and ferocious closer Chorus of Fire, you can see why. Good stuff.
The Dictators NYC are arguably the great lost band of the CBGB’s era. Predating the Ramones by a good year or so, their Go Girl Crazy! album is arguably the one that invented the whole pop-punk genre, and the follow-ups Manifest Destiny and Blood Brothers cemented their place as the missing link between the early ’70s garage bands such as the Flamin’ Groovies (whose Slow Death they cover as part of tonight’s set) and the punk explosion of a few years later. Yet commercially for some reason they never quite broke through in the same way that a lot of their peers did, and it’s something that still has people scratching their heads nearly 40 years later.
Kicking in tonight with The Party Starts Here and Next Big Thing though, it’s clear that while this band may not be as young as they once were, they’ve still got the sort of energy that’d be impressive in a band half their age, ripping through classics such as Stay With Me, Faster And Louder and Baby Let’s Twist alongside relatively new material from 2001’s DFFD album such as Avenue A, The Savage Beat and a truly incendiary Who Will Save Rock ‘n’ Roll? with aplomb.
Frontman “Handsome” Dick Manitoba announces early on that this is the band’s first UK gig since way back in 1977 supporting the Stranglers, and they look genuinely amazed at the huge crowd reaction they get throughout tonight. Manitoba remains a livewire presence behind the mic, regaling the crowd with stories of the old days and keeping the punk flame alive as well as leaping into the crowd and offering the mic around and videoing the crowd’s reaction on his phone and announcing that he’s planning to show the footage to his son as proof that rock ‘n’ roll IS a proper job – nice one! Meanwhile guitarist Ross The Boss has the sort of chops that would see him hold his own in any metal band you’d care to mention (he also served time in ’80s battle-metal types Manowar which might explain it a bit) and the addition of long term Ramones collaborator Daniel Rey on rhythm guitar gives the group an added punk edge.
They finish with an earth-shudderingly ferocious run through Two Tub Man and a cover of the MC5’s Kick Out The Jams before it’s all over, with the band promising that they’ll be back for some 40th anniversary shows in 2015. I’ll be there, and I suggest you should too – it seems fitting that in a year when the original Ramones were sadly reunited at that big slam dance in the sky that the Dictators returned to keep the original NY punk flame alive. All in all, tonight was a top night.