viva It's rare that you find a disc with which you can't find even insubstantial fault. The Dictators, live and amped-up, are simply one of the best things on this musical planet. If you had to come up with something to balance the lavish praise we and fellow Tators fan-atics are spouting about this, it might be that the contemporary tunes on "Viva" manage to sound exactly like their studio cousins. And that's supposed to be a bad thing?

Recorded at Maxwells in Hoboken and the Bowery Ballroom in NYC and delivered with hollow-point impact, it's a celebration of everything that's made the Dictators great in an off-and-on history stretching back to 1974. Departed rhythm guitarist Top Ten is back from California for these recordings,giving the band a heavier undertow than when they toured Australia. Handsome Dick Manitoba is in the sort of vocal form that might qualify him for canonization, were he not of the wrong faith. Ross The Boss simply lays waste to anything and everything in his sonic path with a withering guitar tone worthy of bottling.

The Dictators aren't/weren't for everyone. In fact by '78, so the popular line ran, they were perceived as too punk for the metalheads and too spikey for the Judas Priest brigade. Fact was, they did sit somewhere in the middle and while that's regarded as good field position in a game of football, the parents of today's American mallrats found them too hard to classify (presuming their local radio station or record store was enlightened enough to acknowledge their presence). Sad fact of life is, when you're on a major label, if the demographics guys can't figure out how to market you, you're history. And as the '70s drew to a close, so it was...

There's not a tune here that a true fan won't know backwards, but "Viva" could also serve as a convenient entry point for the uninitiated. Although they rate as classics, the first two Dictators studio albums have some sonic drawbacks that you learn to live with. Most of the best from all their albums are on show on "Viva", in seriously good aural shape.

The one surprise might be the fabulous "Cars and Girls" (taken from a pre-gig soundcheck), which I thought was all but absent from the set list these days. The point might be made too that there's not enough of the Manitoba between song monologues, but that just leaves something for the spoken word album.

At a guess, we won't see the Dictators back in Australia for a while, if ever, and they're not exactly busy on the US touring front either. So pick up a copy of this. As someone once said, it's the next best thing to being there.