This was always going to be a bit of a mad one; The Dickies, veteran Californian cartoon punk rockers and demolishers of unsuspecting rock’n’roll standards, back on my gig itinerary for the first time since that chaotically brilliant Damned support slot, back in December 2012 (gig 867)… However, the crazy factor took an unexpected – and some might say unwelcome – sideways turn with the announcement that vocalist Leonard Graves Phillips had been hospitalised a couple of days prior to the gig. A band facebook announcement revealed that in true punk rock fashion, the band were soldiering on, with a plethora of guest vocalists being arranged “on the fly” to backfill for their absent leader. There was therefore no question of my not attending, but I wondered… given that the hyperactive, helium voiced, manically gabbling Leonard, plus his selection of props, puppets and toys, is such an intrinsic part of The Dickies “live” experience, how would they fare without him? Would this be either a glorious and chaotic triumph, or a disjointed punk rock karaoke disaster?
With anticipation/ trepidation, I set off and parked up just before 8, wandering into the very quiet early doors venue, being handed a note regarding Leonard’s absence on the way in. Saw guitarist and fellow original member Stan Lee walking around the venue making lists and allocating potential singers to tracks, so I enquired about Leonard, then was asked by the Scottish merch guy if I can sing! Graciously declined the “opportunity”, but chatted with him about tonight’s plans; they’re still working them up! As the place filled up, we were subjected to the support slot stylings of soloist Ashley Reaks and his accompanied “art”, consisting of provocative sexual imagery which for me reaked (sic) of deliberate and slightly puerile 6th form style shock tactics. A couple of early beatbox samba driven numbers were equally poor and potty mouthed, but then Reaks played a pretty passable Billy Bragg-styled punk rock track from his “Planet Grot” album, followed by a decent reading of The Cure’s classic creepy goth track “A Forest”! Hmmm…
Took a wander down the front as The Dickies (well, the 4 remaining members, anyway) set up, then gave the thumbs up to start the set at 10 past 9, Stan announcing, “help us out, you guys!” before leading the band into the anthemic fanfare of instrumental opener “Rondo (The Midget’s Revenge)”. Hefty bassist Eddie then filled us in; Leonard’s in hospital in Luton, some kidney problem, complications but not life threatening, but he wanted the tour to continue – “it’s all about the music, it’s all about you guys!” So on came the first “guest” vocalist; Ian the merch guy I’d been chatting to earlier, done up as “Where’s Wally”, and with a fun manic pogoing stage presence to make up for his inevitable vocal shortfall. Nonetheless, he did a sterling job, powering through amphetamine-fast and ridiculously hooky and singalong US punk rock classics such as “Fan Mail”, a superb “Nights In White Satin” and a frenzied “Waterslide”, powered throughout by the gnats-chuff-tight rhythm section of the dickie-bowed drummer and the aforementioned – and nuclear metronome-wristed – bassist Eddie. Eddie himself and second guitarist Ben took a turn on vocals before dragging their suave driver Dale on for a strident, eye-popping “Paranoid”, then a local punter on for “You Drive Me Ape”, which honestly the guy fucked up totally! Still, as he said, he was just walking past…! The real surprise, however, was reserved for when The Dickies invited the venue owner, Blue Aeroplanes bassist Chris Sharp, onto the stage. Apparently only knowing one Dickies number, and having been given an hour to learn 2 more, he brought a sheaf of lyric crib-sheets onstage and totally nailed a brilliant “Give It Back” and “Rosemary”. Ian then returned for set-closing double “If Stuart Could Talk” and “Gigantor” (for which he donned an impromptu towel “cape”), the band then leaving the stage to a huge reception. So, triumph or disaster? Thankfully, it veered considerably towards the former!
Encores of an almost straight “Breaking The Law” (the old Judas Priest HM chugger) and the inevitable “Banana Splits”, again delivered superbly by Chris, ended proceedings, and I grabbed the list and scampered around collecting signatures and offering congrats. Shorn of Leonard’s cartoon stylings and props, this felt more like a conventional “rock” show, but nonetheless The Dickies – and their guest vocalists – made it a thoroughly entertaining evening of vintage crazy and singalong punk rock. Be well and get better soon Leonard; 2016 has already taken away far more than it deserves to. But in the meantime, rest up and rest assured that your boys – and Ian the merch guy – are doing you proud!