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We’re not in Arkansas anymore: Deke Dickerson at the Ale House. Photo by: John Whipple

Make Mine a Double-Necker
By Erik Hage

Deke Dickerson
The Ale House, May 2

‘Why was the toothbrush invented in Arkansas? Because if it were invented anywhere else, it would be called a ‘teethbrush.’ Why do people from Arkansas do it doggy style? So they can both watch NASCAR during sex.” The highly entertaining and charming Deke Dickerson has some funny material (and lord knows what Arkansas ever did to him), but more than that, he has some major guitar chops. And you better have some mad skillz (or long hair and velvet flares at the least) if you’re going to make the double-necked guitar your trademark.

Dickerson, an amiable L.A. resident (via Missouri), rolled up to the raftered backroom of the Ale House on Sunday night to light up a hearty Sabbath-night crowd with his colorful blend of American roots & roll. The Capital Region hard-core rock & roll fans were out to catch the renowned guitarist with a voice like a clarion. A few disenfranchised swing dancers hungrily eyed the insufficient 3 square feet of floor in front of the stage; a couple of unreasonably coiffed rockabilly cats slouched around with pale girlfriends; and several oldsters took a nostalgic trip back to a time so nice that it probably never existed. Some of the best local players were also on hand to scope out Deke, including singer Johnny Rabb, steel player Kevin Maul and Rocky Velvet frontman Ian Carlton.

Accompanying Dickerson was wildly versatile drummer Chris “Sugarballs” Sprague and acclaimed Chicago bassist Jimmy Sutton (of the Four Charms). The trio offered a broad-ranging romp through a Technicolored, pre-Woodstock America, offering up swing, surf, country, rock & roll and even a few garage tinges. Dickerson’s guitar work isn’t simply good—it’s on a whole different plane. As he switched among a Telecaster, an ancient Gretsch and his trademark double-neck, he nimbly and blindingly charged through everything from truckin’ Bakersfield road rash to rippling surf (on an unbelievable version of “Diamond Head”) to straight-out glistening swing (especially a sweet version of the early-’50s dirty ditty “Poontang”). The tunes included a unique range of covers and a bunch of Dickerson’s own stuff.

The slouch-capped, compact drummer Sugarballs, who looks like a Little Rascal all grown up, also came out front for some fine singing and steel guitar, offering up big Hawaiian weeps on Hank Williams’ “Hey Good Looking” and the instrumental slow-dancer “Since I Don’t Have You.” (Why is he called “Sugarballs”? “That’s a one-on-one conversation,” the man himself answered tersely from the stage.) And that leads to the most striking thing about the trio: their versatility. At one point they even switched up instruments in mid-song, with all three members, one after the other, eventually launching scorching guitar solos on Dickerson’s Telly. All were in fine throat as well, whether harmonizing or taking their own turn in the spotlight. (“I’m not going to question the psychological implications of a man named Sugarballs singing a song called ‘Hot Dog,’” cracked Dickerson before one vocal turn.)

The Lustre Kings, along with the scarily good—and getting scarier by the minute—Graham Tichy, opened the show with a strong set while Dickerson and co. sat at a nearby table blowing their per diem on tall beers and a pile of those great Ale House wings. The Kings seemed tough, seasoned and tight from their time on the road with rockabilly legend Wanda Jackson, and launched a bunch of their standards (“Rock and Roll Ivy,” Blotto’s “1, 2, 3 Hang Up”), some tunes from Graham Tichy’s new solo album, and a bunch of numbers off the new Lustre Kings album, That’s Showbiz.

Early to Bed

Sonic Youth, J Mascis
John M. Greene Hall, Smith College, Northampton, Mass., April 30

I may be getting older, but there’s still a part of me that thinks a rock show—an indoor one, especially—shouldn’t really get started until after dark, and any out-of-town show should keep me out late enough that I’ll need to bob my head and suckle a caffeinated beverage for the entire drive home to save myself from certain doom. Not Friday night’s show, though. Granted, it was a benefit for Community Resources for People With Autism, a worthwhile cause indeed, and the announcement shortly ahead of time that the last tickets had been sold was encouraging.

How lame is Northampton, Mass.? This is the town where, a mere two weeks ago, Bob Pollard of Guided by Voices had his mic turned off mid-song because the band had played past the town’s curfew. I guess I should have expected to get the short shrift here—if they’ll screw Bob, they’ll screw us all—but this was to be a homecoming show for Sebadoh, a momentous date on their sold-out “reunion” tour, the first time Lou Barlow and J Mascis had performed on the same stage in more than a decade (for those who don’t know the backstory, check out the Dinosaur Jr. chapter of Michael Azerrad’s Our Band Could Be Your Life). One might think they would have been pushed a little later in the bill, but when I showed up at 9 PM (the show began at 6, according to the tickets), five bands had already performed, including Sebadoh. You can imagine the sour face I wore as I sat through the final two bands—damn you, Northampton, for being so square! Oh yeah, and to the raver dork “dancing” his way through the crowd all evening: Stop it. Stop it right now.

Despite my admittedly bad attitude, I found both headliners to offer something special. The enigmatic J Mascis took a seat at center stage with his cutaway Gibson acoustic, looking perfectly odd with his scraggly gray hair, glasses and a purple track-suit top. Accompanied on some songs by flautist Suzanne Thorpe (Mercury Rev), Mascis ran through a 12-song set, hitting nearly every point of his career along the way. “What Else Is New” revealed the real M.O. here. After a fairly sedate recital of the verses, the last two minutes of the song turned into a guitar freakout, with Mascis looping his strum through a Boomerang pedal and overdriving his lead guitar signal to the point where it sounded like Jimi’s Stratocaster might have after the Monterey show. Of course, every time he hit the stomp box, it doubled the volume of the instrument, but the juxtaposition between soft and loud (we’re talking cat’s purr versus jet engine here) was suitably vast. Those dynamics were even more jarring in the context of a song, especially on the Evan Dando-esque “If That’s How It’s Going to Be” from last year’s Free So Free. Sonic Youth’s Lee Ranaldo hopped onstage and, intentionally or not, did a fine Mascis impression on “Little Furry Things,” and the Mascis-Thorpe pairing reached a nearly cacophonous climax on Green Mind’s “Thumb” to close the set.

Speculation on whether there would be a reunion of the Lou Barlow-era Dinosaur Jr. lineup was rampant in weeks leading up to the show—could he and Mascis actually settle their differences enough to play onstage together again? Sort of. Instead, we got a raucous one-song reunion of Mascis’ and Barlow’s pre-Dinosaur punk band, Deep Wound, during which Barlow and bassist Scott Helland thrashed around like giddy teenagers and Mascis’ drumming showed why he is quite possibly the direct forefather of Dave Grohl. It wasn’t Sebadoh or Dinosaur Jr., but it was a lot of fun.

Sonic Youth are often referred to as the “godfathers of indie rock”—at the very least, they could be its parent, as Kim Gordon turned 51 last week. The new material presented on Friday night, almost entirely drawn from the upcoming Sonic Nurse, was pretty rocking in comparison to their recent output. I gave up on keeping track of Sonic Youth song titles some time ago, as they seem less important than the grand scheme of the band’s sound, so let’s just say that “Thurston Hurls the Broken Jaguar” and “Surf Beat, Kim Sings” found the group sounding more and more like their own godfathers, Television. “Paper Cup Exit” (that’s the real title, they said so) started off feeling like a somnambulistic run on “Teen Age Riot,” before breaking into a toothy shapeshifter, held down by Steve Shelley’s tight, Charlie-Watts-esque timekeeping. However, when they ended their 70-minute set with the pop-with-its-head-cut-off classic “Drunken Butterfly” from 1992’s Dirty, it quickly put all of the evening’s newer material to shame. Gordon snarled the classic hook line “I love you, what’s your name?” like it was hot off the presses, and twirled around like a playground-bound toddler, making that rave kid look like he had two left feet.

—John Brodeur

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