The Madeira, Center of the Surf: Rick’s Quick Takes

Believe it or not, the online version of Encyclopedia Britannica includes an article on surf music, which defines the genre’s core sound (invented by Dick Dale) this way : “a distinctive style of electric-guitar playing that fused Middle Eastern influences, staccato picking, and skillful exploitation of the reverb amplifier (which he helped Leo Fender develop) to create a pulsing, cascading sound that echoed the surfing experience.”

Fast forward to today, and surf music (like progressive rock) continues as a strong, if insular subculture — doubtless one in which debates on “is [insert band name] really surf music?” find fertile soil.   In theory, The Madeira fit Britannica’s definition perfectly — at least as they describe themselves:

“The Madeira plays surf music born of screaming wind over the sand dunes of the Sahara Desert, deafening echoes of waves pounding the Gibraltar Rock, joyous late-night gypsy dances in the small towns of Andalucia, and exotic cacophony of the Marrakesh town square. It is the surf music of the millennia-old Mediterranean mysteries.”

And honestly, that’s exactly what the band’s new live album, Center of the Surf, sounds like.  Whether on roiling, high-speed workouts like the title track, “Leviathan”, “Hail Poseidon” and “Dilmohammed” or slower-burning explorations like “Into the Deep,” the Madeira’s drive and intensity never flag.  Ivan Pongracic’s scorching lead lines and Patrick O’Connor’s unflagging rhythm work serve up all the guitar you can stand and more, breaking through to surf nirvana; Todd Fortier on bass and Dane Carter on drums pump up the adrenaline, barreling through with unstoppable power and momentum.

And just when it seems Center of the Surf can’t get any more exciting, The Madeira are joined onstage by surf music historian/rhythm guitarist John Blair and Jonpaul Balak on second bass guitar.  The results on “Tribal Fury”, “Sandstorm” and “Intruder” are even more immersive: the thickened texture, intensified groove, and vaulting solo lines both amp up the thrills and bring out the lush romanticism at the core of the band’s melodies.

The audience at Surf Guitar 101’s 2017 convention erupts with delighted applause and encouragement at every opportunity throughout the Madeira’s set — and their reaction’s on the money!  Center of the Surf is music that bursts the boundaries of its genre; it’ll connect with anyone who loves rock composition and performance at its highest level.  Recorded and mixed by Beach Boys go-to producer Mark Linnet, this is a gleaming, glorious winner of an album.  Order it (and the rest of the band’s catalog) from Double Crown Records.

— Rick Krueger

The Madeira’s Second Live Album

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Double Crown Records (2018).

It’s ready, coming tomorrow.  The very best of surf rock–The Madeira, CENTER OF THE SURF, featuring Ivan Pongracic, economist, professor, human extraordinaire!

To order, click here: https://www.doublecrownrecords.com/the-madeira-center-of-the-surf-cd/

And, for a taste, here’s Leviathan.

Blair-Pongracic Band East (U.S.) Coast Tour, 2017

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This looks wonderful.  Ivan Pongracic is, of course, the lead guitarist of The Madeira, the world’s greatest surf band.  The Blair-Pongracic Band is one of his side projects.  An important one to be sure.

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For those of you who haven’t already heard, The Blair-Pongracic Band is about to bring nine, very high energy appearances to the East Coast in just a few short weeks. Here are the June dates:

16th Star Bar (Atlanta GA)
17th Snug Harbor (Charlotte NC)
18th The Station (Carrboro NC)
19th Hill Country BBQ (Washington DC)
20th Brighton Bar (Long Branch NJ)
21st Lucky 13 Saloon (Brooklyn NY)
22nd Happy Dog (Cleveland OH)
23rd Urban Artifact (Cincinnati OH)
24th Melody Inn (Indianapolis IN)

Help spread the word. Hope to see YOU along the way!!!

Impressions of The Madeira’s Ancient Winds

The first (electric) guitar hero? Dick Dale, no question.

The king of “surf” guitar, Dale’s technique was equal parts curling waves and Gene Krupa, combined with an utterly unique left-handed, reverse-string approach. His eastern European roots, and his quest for greater sonic force out of his guitar and his amps, also played a major role in his work, and his early 60s versions of Misirlou and Hava Nagila were reverb-drenched instrumental workouts of the highest order, sneaking through the back door of pop music and exerting a seminal influence on what would become the rock guitar pantheon. Indeed, it’s hard to imagine a Jimi Hendrix or Jimmy Page without Dick Dale’s shoulders to stand on. The template Dale created is hard to resist: amped, fast-picked, lightning runs utilizing eastern scales, riding atop thunderous drums. Rock and roll fierce. Done well and with a sense of mare incognitum, instrumental surf rock continues to be one of the most electrifying musics on the planet. While the 1990s lounge revival saw a parallel-track revival in surf music, with groups like Man or Astroman? revving up its retro appeal, in some ways as a genre surf rock has had a much deeper influence in the last two decades on the kind of forward-thinking instrumental guitar music produced by bands like Scenic and Pelican.

The Madeira (Ivan Pongracic and Patrick O’Connor, guitars, Dane Carter, drums, Todd Fortier, bass) conjured these thoughts when I first listened to the band’s latest release, Ancient Winds, a surf rave up that dishes, ostensibly, on the Mediterranean as surf rock epicenter. Using classic surf music as its primary touchstone, Ancient Winds still sounds utterly contemporary. The Madeira takes surf guitar tropes and adds edge, darkness, complexity: this is not a world that is as simple as it might seem. There’s no kitsch here, no hokum or retro, only a serious band that unpacks some serious chops and also works the riffs in a gleefully satisfying way, suggesting Moorish Spain as channeled through a Fender Twin Reverb. The opening track, Journey to the Center of the Surf, is aptly titled, conjuring its forebears with the staccato picking so central to surf rock, balancing dynamics that draw on speed AND more deliberate melodic lines, to draw a broad picture of what’s to come.

Like all the tracks on the album, it leaves you wanting more, which is the Ancient Wind’s appeal: a record where you can land on any track and find a great cut, where the reverb and amplification are so saturated they push the riffs close to the edge, folding them inward until they almost disappear into a beautiful Kashmir cloud; or where there’s a moment of reflection, like on Dawn in Cadiz; or where what seemingly begins as a Ventures spinoff turns into a dizzying variation of chords around a central theme far more complex than initially expected. The percussion and rhythm work complete the songs, filling in details and sympathizing with the moods set by the guitar’s main melodic lines.

I think the caliber of The Madeira’s work exists outside of the friendlier profile surf rock projected at its height of early popularity, of the boy-next-door image of clean cut kids on the beach enjoying sun and surf. Here is the rumble of Link Wray and the speed of Dick Dale, a raw danger that deserves greater exposure and acknowledgement in mainstream rock. Am I saying surf rock doesn’t get the serious respect it should in the larger rock world, that it unjustly languishes as a sidebar in the rock and roll text? Absolutely. While the gonzo humor and good times embedded in its outsize riffs and sonic force will always be part of surf rock’s appeal, the artistry and musicianship on display on Ancient Winds shows there are other shores the surf can land on.

Here be dragons, indeed.

The Madeira’s SONIC CATACLYSM out this week

The five releases of The Madeira, the best surf band in the world.  Photo taken at Progarchy Allthing.
The five releases of The Madeira, the best surf band in the world. Photo taken at Progarchy Allthing.

The best surf band in the world, The Madeira, is releasing their first live album, SONIC CATACLYSM, this week.  It’s, in part, a celebration of the band’s tenth anniversary.

The brainchild behind the band, Ivan Pongracic, an economist by day, is also a fellow progger.  Though Dick Dale informs the music than any other person, there’s certainly a lot of Alex Lifeson and Steve Hackett thrown in as well.

To celebrate their tenth anniversary, The Madeira will be playing a special show in Indianapolis on June 14.

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On July 22, the band will open for Dick Dale, also in Indy.

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To order any of the band’s cds, go here: http://themadeira.net/