GRRRR. Frustration, vexation, anger: in many ways, suitable mood-settings for an evening of high velocity punk rock, but still not necessarily something I particularly wish to experience.
To elucidate: I’m not entirely sure what’s up with Diamond Buses this week, but for some reason, this evening’s 20.30 from Dudley to Bilston has entirely failed to materialise. In turn, this extreme inefficiency/blatant indifference (coupled with the fact that they’re only hourly to begin with) means my companion and I have to peg it the long way round (bus to Wolverhampton then a tram back southwards) thus preventing us from catching either of tonight’s support bands: my apologies, therefore, to both of you, especially if it later transpires that you were brilliant. On the other hand, if you were crap, please disregard the last comment and move on.
Luckily, however, we’re inside well in time to catch the Dickies in all their ragged, shambolic, speedfreak glory. Not that they’re that shambolic anymore: the present-day rhythm section, comprised of terrifyingly muscular bassist Eddie Tatar and lithe, fiery young drummer Adam Gomez, have tightened the band’s formerly sloppy low-end to the consistency of the proverbial ‘virgin’s legs’, thus enabling them to steam-power their way through such timeless classics as You Drive Me Ape, Poodle Party, Fan Mailand their ice-cold take on the Moody Blues’ Nights In White Satin with newfound fervour. Of course, in a way, it’s only befitting that they should play both that and their version of Sabbath’s Paranoid here in the West Midlands, the region which birthed both bands: then again, they’re just as happy to open with the Fabs’ I Want To Hold Your Hand, which means that technically, they could be anywhere and not care. Such is their insouciant, snotty cool, even in their early 60s: on the other hand, that’s also one of the many reasons we still love them.
We also love them because, like us, they’re fans at heart and remain so: though one of their new compositions may be called I Hate Punk Rock, it’s the genre’s self-perpetuating narrow constraints with which its lyric takes issue, not the music itself, and I have to say, I’m more or less in agreement. Displaying his influences further, guitarist Stan Lee – still cool-as-fuck after all these years in shades, trilby and beard – sports a rather fetching t-shirt of Woody Woodmansey and Tony Visconti’s Bowie-heritage band Holy Holy, which he later tells me he purchased at one of their shows in his native LA: like most first-generation US punks, they remain Anglophiles to a man, hence their repeated touring of this sceptred isle over almost four constant decades, and even if they’re not sure which town they’re in, their love of the country speaks volumes. On the other hand, maybe it’s best not to make too much of a public announcement concerning your band’s love of a certain convicted paedophilic glam-rock legend, even to the point of calling it Gary Glitter Getaway: thankfully, the crowd here have a sense of humour, but I can think of several other places where a severe bottling might ensue…
Though now somewhat thinner on top than in the band’s heyday, wiry frontman Leonard Graves Phillips’ shaggy barnet still retains the Beatle-cut mullet of yore: several undoubted changes have been made in this band over the years, and numerous members have departed at the unfortunate behest of the reaper’s scythe, but Lenny’s rakish riah, together with his litany of daft costumes (a giant-bollocked white camel, anyone?) remain in perpetuity. Thank fuck for that. Of course, it is a vastly different era now to the idealistic-yet-nihilistic scene which begat LA punk, and musicians these days have to make a living: as a result, the announcement that Phillips obtained his banana-logo t-shirt on Amazon (neatly segued into the end of Got It At The Store) is soon suffixed by another, less ambiguous statement concerning the availability of CDs, DVDs and t-shirts, something which seems to be becoming more and more of a weekly occurrence for everyone from Dean Friedman to death metallers. Naturally, if it means money directly changing hands between fan and musician rather than the fat cats getting their grubby paws on it, I’m all for it: I just wish it wasn’t so goddamn predictable. After all, I still remember the time, years before I took this job, when a gig meant slipping for three hours into a world of delicious fantasy. Realism be damned, this is rock’n’roll…
Unusually for my own slightly reserved, cautious self, I pile into the mosh tonight on at least three occasions: Pretty Please Me, the loping Quick tune later popularised by Redd Kross, is one of them, but by the time of the inevitable Banana Splits, I’ve already elected to remain down there anyway, leaving Plus One to mind the bags. Then again, Dickies music was never, even at the height of punk, about aggression: even back in ’78, they la-la’ed, fizzed, whizzed, whammed, flammoed and kerblammoed whilst others snarled, gnarled and fnarled, and with this modus operandi has always come a large side-order of positivity, making their wrecking pit more akin to an over-energetic game of Twister than anything remotely vitriolic. Not that all the band’s announcements are necessarily as positive, mind you: indeed, Phillips’ repeat references to ‘retirement’ and how the band’s forthcoming, crowd-funded album will be their ‘final release’ hardly bode well, especially when afterwards, Lee seems less than au fait with this declaration. Uh-oh.
For all their perceived ‘gimmick’ status, the Dickies have always been one of punk’s greatest gifts to genuine pop lovers: like their heroes the Ramones, and their fellow Californians the Weirdos, the Zeros and the Germs, they’ve always delivered a harmony vocal-laden, satirical, Technicolor take on the genre that other, greyer acts have struggled to replicate, and forty years on, their approach remains one of the most distinctive within its parameters, one which will be sadly missed should they cease to exist. Of course, whether this will transpire to be their parting bow remains to be seen- personally, as a fan and journalist of several decades’ experience, my cynicism usually tells me to take such proclamations with hefty doses of salt – but on the other hand, if Phillips genuinely does wish to lay his already flawless legacy to rest at this juncture, one can only applaud him – as indeed I already have UFO frontman Phil Mogg – for his honesty and dignity. Either way, it’s a win-win situation. All hail the Dickies: still ridiculous after all these years (and proud of it) they’ve made several happy men very old.