A lot can happen to a band in twenty years. In an era where bands have trouble outliving their first album, New York City’s own Dictators took their proto-punk anthems and reformed in 1991, seventeen years after they began, playing alongside the likes of MC5 and the Stooges. Viva Dictators! is a collection of seventeen songs played live that sound absolutely pristine, with the band energetically ripping their way through a great set featuring such songs as “New York, New York,” “Pussy And Money,” and “Faster & Louder.”
At an hour long, the album is an amazing recorded example of just what one would experience if they were to see the band live. Everything is on point, and the recording quality of the show is nothing short of superb; the atmosphere and crowd are captured very well, without any reduction in the sound quality of Dictators themselves. You just wouldn’t expect the level of quality shown here for songs performed live, but that’s not the only area that Dictators impress. Starting out with the loud decree of “We are the Dictators! And I’m proud to say, we are from the great city, of New York, New York!” the band never looks back. The music isn’t particularly fast, or loud, as most punk standards would have, but the spirit and “fuck you” attitude is undeniable.
Where Dictators excel is writing fun tunes that may be relatively simple, but that you cannot resist singing along to. Don’t count their abilities out however, or relegate them to a band who’s only able to write some catchy music, because some of the riffing present in these songs is downright impressive. “Avenue A” lets guitarist Andy Shernoff take the lead and run with it, as the end of the song features him just shredding away over the pounding of the drums and it sounds fantastic. Plenty of other songs also showcase Shernoff’s prowess on the strings, as “Minnesota Strip” gives him ample time to light up the stage and fill the speakers with his powerful riffage. The band still belongs to singer Dick Manitoba, however, and he lets his voice, though not as powerful or loud as some, take some real command.
There’s really not a bad song to be found on the entire album, and with an hour for a runtime, that’s quite the feat. They don’t allow the sound to grow stale, opting instead to change up tempos and vocal deliveries to keep interest. And as simple as the main chord progressions remain throughout, there’s still always time for some amazing shredding, and you’ll find no better than the end of “I Am Right.” Simply great stuff, and again accompanied very well by the drums.
Normally for a punk album, I’d find an hour to be far too long to remain entertaining, but Dictators have defied that stereotype and laid down an exemplary live album. The flow kept throughout each of the 17 songs and the content of each is something to be admired, regardless of how old the content actually is from a band that’s even older. In Dictators, you’ll find a band to be admired, a band who does everything right that a band needs to do. Highly recommended.