Who Will Save Rock and Roll? Re-constituted Dictators are The Next Big Thing
Keith Roth, Albert Bouchard and Ross The Boss.
Debonair Music Hall
Teaneck, NJ USA
November 2, 2022
By Geoff Ginsberg (with help from Frank "Geoff couldn't edit his way out of a wet paper bag" Friedman)
Dictators assemble! They're baaaack!!
And there was much rejoicing.
Andy Shernoff and Ross The Boss have reconstituted the band and they're doing gigs and recording again.
Before I get to the show itself, a bit of semi-recent history. I'm going to assume if you're bothering to read this, you already know the big picture history - punk forefathers, the NYC band between the Dolls and the Ramones, etc.
In 2006, CBGB was wrapping up their historic run on The Bowery. Many CB's legends came out of their apartments to perform on that stage one last time and give the venue the send-off it so richly deserved.
The penultimate night featured Walter Lure (RIP) and The Waldos, Debbie Harry and Chris Stein, and the first performance by the Dictators in several years. They had done some gigs in 2003 as a four piece since Scott "Top Ten" Kempner had moved out west, but this was the full complement: Handsome Dick Manitoba, Ross, Top Ten, Andy and JP Thunderbolt Patterson.
Besides CBGB being retired, that would also be it for the classic Dictators line-up. Andy was done, and as the guy who literally wrote every original song they ever did, that was a wrap for the Dictators.
But that left a void, and a few years later HDM wanted to fill that void and once again play the songs that made the whole world sing. (Well, 5000 people anyway.) But The Dictators was Andy's thing and he had no interest in picking it back up at that point. So they worked out a deal where the band would be called "Manitoba" and they'd be free to play the music that Andy had given them and the world. A win-win for everyone, especially the fans.
The band was HDM, Ross, Daniel Rey in the Top Ten position (who, as the original guitarist in Manitoba's Wild Kingdom brought his own cred to the proceedings), the very able and very cool Dean Rispler in the Andy spot, and the explosive JP Thunderbolt Patterson in his by now longtime big drummer-boy seat. As a live band it was a lot more than a tribute act; it felt like the real deal.
But unfortunately that wasn't good enough for HDM. Before long he tore up the handshake deal and changed the name to The Dictators NYC, and then to just The Dictators. Lawyers became involved.
Full disclosure: I'm an "Andy guy" so I was really uncomfortable about the way things were going down. I decided I'd pass on "The Dictators." But then I read somewhere a review of the band by none other than Top Ten who said he couldn't believe the power they delivered. It was the first time he'd seen and heard The Dictators facing the stage as opposed to being on stage facing the crowd. A very different perspective for sure.
Scott's an Andy-guy too, as well as being lifelong friends with the other guys. I have enough battles of my own, I certainly don't need to fight other people's battles. If Scott wasn't being disloyal, neither would I be. So I went to see the newly renamed Dictators.
Disappointingly, HDM wasted no opportunity to trash Andy from the stage, even as they performed Andy's music. You could see Ross cringing. To be honest, if HDM had said, "Andy Shernoff is one of the biggest assholes I've ever met in my life, but you know what? He's also a genius songwriter and without him we'd have a one song setlist, so thank you Andy for the music and my persona as the Too Tub Man," I probably could have lived with it.
But he only said the first part. That was it for me. I decided on the spot I would NEVER support that again. Forgive my Philly-speak, but what a fuckin' douche!
(In my limited experience Andy has been anything but an asshole - no ego, regular guy, gave me the last unreleased Dictators song for a comp even though the bad vibes and lawyer bills were mounting. A Fuckin-A cool guy, nothing less.)
Eventually Ross couldn't take it anymore and that was that, they were done.
Andy and Ross decided to reanimate the band in its original form - a four piece band with no LSD (lead singer dude). That's what they were when they started, got signed and made their first record. HDM was the roadie, who sang one song and a couple of duets. Andy was the lead singer.
Top Ten sadly has major health issues - he wasn't a possibility. And they needed a drummer and it would have to be someone really great because JPTP is an absolute beast.
Enter Bronx native Keith Roth (from Frankenstein 3000) on pacemaker guitar AND lead vocals, and the one and only Albert Bouchard (Blue Oyster Cult) on the drums. Both are screaming tribesmen - not of the Mick Medew kind, but of the Jewish kind. (Okay, Albert's merely an honorary Jew, a status conferred upon him many decades ago as a member of the Cult of the Blue Oyster.) It's part of the vibe.
Getting those guys was a real coup for Andy and Ross. Albert had been president of the World Bank and Roth had been heading up the International Monetary Fund. Both gentlemen took major pay cuts to join The Dictators! But don't cry for them Argentinstralia - they both have monthly direct deposits from the World Control Fund as well as an annual Illuminati stipend. So they're doing okay. Yes, even as an honorary Jew, Albert gets the deposits.
Sadly it seems Kyrie "I took the Ashke out of Ashkenazi" gets no stipend, but I digress.
Seriously though, it would certainly be a change of pace not having a LSD, not to mention a comedian/MC fronting the band!
According to Roth, the first LP he ever bought with his "own money" was T”he Dictators Go Girl Crazy”. What's more he's rumored to be the grand nephew of the late Ernie Roth aka The Grand Wizard of Wrestling, so on paper he was an excellent fit.
Uncle Ernie Roth aka The Grand Wizard
Now to the concert itself...
What this band has is material that few other bands in Rock and Roll history can match. I mean, you'd have to fuck it up pretty bad for it to not be good. Like if the new singer froze and then burst into tears mid-song. That didn't happen.
They walked out on stage (excellent venue, high stage, roomy, great sound system - amusingly in a row of Kosher restaurants) and anticipation was high! The first words out of Roth's mouth we're "I'm proud to be the Sammy Hagar of the Dictators!" The assembled throng roared with laughter - the comedic aspect was still in place.
Then they got down to business and their business is my pleasure. They opened the show with It's Alright from the mighty DFFD album, which could be the best of the five albums Andy wrote. (I reviewed it in this forum 20 years ago and I stand by every word I said.)
Roth's not a showboat, he's just a fine vocalist and guitarist. He sounded fantastic.
Ross... what can you say that hasn't been said? The guy's a phenomenon. His playing is ferocious, yet so lyrical, so appropriate to the songs. That's even clearer when he's playing metal (like when he was in Albert's band The Brain Surgeons) where you realize his technique has morphed perfectly for that style, which realistically is probably his sweet spot. That's scary. He's got a lot of arrows in his quill.
Andy was in the wide stance laying down the bottom end, and Albert? Good lord, it was hard to take my eyes off him and it's NOT because I'm turned on by 75-year-old men (though truth be told he IS cute as a button).
Next up was the classic “The Minnesota Strip”. By the time of “Blood Brothers” (1978) HDM had evolved into a pretty decent vocalist, or more accurately, someone who did a good job of delivering the message. Listening to The Strip with my eyes closed there was no getting around the fact that they not only hadn't lost anything, Roth was adding something they'd never had - a bona fide Singer, and I was loving it!
The bassline in The Strip is a real favorite of mine, very unusual the way it climbs up a notch before the power chords crash down, and Andy played it just like on the record. Ross just did his virtuoso thing, nothing needed alteration there. Just gimme more!
The third song was a new one, “Let's Get The Band Back Together”. Andy had released it as a solo single a few years ago. A catchy, amusing tune, nothing life changing. Andy also took the lead vocal on this one. Here's the thing though - the crowd, mostly hearing the song for the first time, reacted to it like it was an all-time classic. I couldn't believe how anthemic it now sounded, and the sheer delight with which the entire audience shouted the title when it was our turn to sing. I mean, it was the first time it was ever performed!
Most people had NEVER heard it. It was like “The Next Big Thing” the way the fans sang after hearing only one verse.
In the future this song should go straight to encore status.
Andy also took the lead vocal on “God Damn New York”, another brand new song. Once again the faithful took to it like it had been imprinted on our souls decades ago.
I'm sure we've all seen many small c classic rock bands introducing new material and no matter how good it is you simply never see that sort of reaction.
At that point it was clear, The Dictators are back and they're a force to be reckoned with.
When Keith told the crowd about how much he loved the Tators’ version of the Mott The Hoople rocker “The Moon Upstairs”, I recalled hearing it for the first time myself in '78. I had no idea what it was at the time (when you're 16 stuff can slip through the cracks), just that it said MOON on the setlist and it was (literally) one of the greatest songs I'd ever heard.
When they put out the live tape in '81 and I saw the Hunter/Ralphs songwriting credit I did a spit take. When Roth told Andy "We have to do it!" Andy said, "Uh...OK!" It was thrilling! Maybe a little closer to the Mott version than the old Dictators version had been.
They focused a lot on “DFFD”, delivering “Pussy and Money”, “Savage Beat”, “Avenue A” and of course, “Who Will Save Rock And Roll”. That song, when they debuted it in '97 was met with the same response “Band Back Together” got this night: Instant classic. Is it the best song Andy ever wrote? It sure as hell is in the conversation!
They also did several jams from the “Blood Brothers” era including the aforementioned “Strip”, the punk classic “Stay With Me”, a blazing “Faster and Louder”, “New York New York” (which dates back to the '70s but didn't get recorded until the Manitoba's Wild Kingdom “...And You?” CD), and “Baby Let's Twist”, which was key.
To me the latter tune was classic era drummer Ritchie Teeter's (great name for a DickTeeters drummer) recorded high point. His fills were so creative and rhythmically perfect on the album. JP would play it with a little less finesse, but dialled up pure power and not lacking in any way. I was thinking, "OK Albert, let's see what you got!" JP is pretty much untouchable in terms of power and explosivity so Albert was going to need to bring more than a rep to the table. And so he did. His playing throughout the show added a different dimension than Ritchie or JP. At times I was thinking "Buddy Rich, eat your heart out!" I was loving the Albert vibe!
And besides “The Moon Upstairs”, they broke out several other classic Tators covers. The Velvets’ “What Goes On” was so welcome. Ross' extended solo was nothing short of beautiful. The classic nugget “We Ain't Got Nothing Yet” by the Blues Magoos (also from the Bronx) was in their mid '90s setlist and once again Ross' cascading lead was a thrill.
Much to everyone's delight, Albert got to do one of his compositions. In his time with the Oyster Boys he probably wrote more than any of the other guys, all of whom contributed songs, so it would have been crazy not to include something from his epic catalogue. The version of “Dominance and Submission” was completely ridiculous. Hearing Ross playing Buck's parts was incredible and Albert did the best vocal I've ever heard on that tune. Far from just belting it out, he inhabited the song's every nuance.
And the other cover tune, get ready for this, was “Crazy Horses” by the Osmond Brothers - yes, THOSE Osmond brothers! A good friend of mine has told me about the song in the past ("It's hard rock!") but I had never heard it and didn't feel the need to track down anything by The Osmonds. When they hit the chorus I was like, "Holy Joseph Smith, this must be it!" The song fit right in - nothing tongue in cheek, just a super catchy hard rocker.
They wrapped the show up with “Weekend”, the one pre “Blood Brothers” song of the evening. The audience members joyously sang along with the "la la las" and then that was that.
Hearing such great music, played so well with a renewed spirit and super cool and yes legendary new members... It was a privilege. I'm really comfortable with grown men (or women for that matter) playing rock and roll music. That's what The Dictators are. They got the tunes, they got the chops.
More new material is in the offing. Reason to live!!