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NEW YORK DOLLS
London Old Vic Tunnels 30/31 March 2011
exactly is so great about the New York Dolls? That's what all the
doubters and naysayers keep asking me. I mean, how can I still be so
enthusiastic about repeatedly watching a band with only two original
members left alive, whose glory days are surely behind them?
reformations go against every rule laid down in the live fast, die
young, shag Swedish, Camden Cool-O-Meter.
well, then, that these shows again took place south of the river, in
decidedly unhip (but far more enjoyable) Southwark - for they not only
answered all the above questions defiantly and conclusively, but in a
way which defied every doubter.
What I don't
understand is the suddenness of this backlash. The claws were, it seems,
already out for new album 'Dancing Backward In High Heels' (their third
since reforming in 2004) before it even hit the blogsphere, let alone
the shops - why, because it doesn't sound like another 12 retreads of
'Trash' or 'Personality Crisis', thereby causing you to re-evaluate your
narrow definition of rock n roll? Actually, I'm being sarcastic, but if
that is genuinely what you believe, then you're missing the point.
This is not
a nostalgia act, no matter how tempting it must be to rest on those
laurels. Nor is it a post-modern post-ironic take on cock rock like some
I could name, although the band will be hitting US stages in the company
of Crue and Poison (both of whom should be fucking HONOURED) later this
still a rock n roll band. But anyone who understands rock and roll knows
the vast expanse of influences that make up that music, and how at best
they're an expression of inner beauty rather than outer artifice. And
no, they're not going to prog out or deliver their rock opera - not just
yet, at any rate.
But there is
room for experimentation, redefinition and development, and that's what
the Dolls 2011 are about.
in the lyrics to the excellent 'Streetcake', delivered halfway through
the set and already familiar to many, wherein Johansen namechecks a
principal influence, Mitch Ryder.
the one-time Detroit Wheel deviate, after three albums from his
original R'n'B blueprint, go on to record concept suites, Procol
Harum covers and introspective, political material? Sure he did, and in
doing so he became all the more fascinating for it.
Dolls, whilst still purveyors of high-octane, greasy rock n roll
onstage, have carte blanche to step into the outer limits.
It's a shame
Steve Conte and Sami Yaffa, both of whom contributed largely to the
co-writing of 'One Day It Will Please Us' and 'Cause I Sez So', couldn't
commit to this journey, reinforcing the belief that today's Dolls are
more of a 'collective' - ie Johansen, Sylvain, Brian Delaney and whoever
happens to be available - but the lineup in front of us, featuring Louis
XIV bassist Jason Hill (also producer of the new record) and the
legendary Earl Slick (Frank Infante played on the album) are, in all
honesty, better equipped to take these new sonic plunges.
favourites 'Pills' 'Who Are The Mystery Girls' 'Jet Boy' and 'Private
World', the last-named now regularly extended to take in numerous blues
quotes but without, thankfully, ever degenerating into the tedious
jam-rock purveyed by the likes of Widespread Panic, don't necessarily
sound different, in fact if anything they're closer to the originals
than their recent incarnations - but they're also fresher, sharper and
leaner than they've sounded at any point since those legendary reunion
gigs round the corner with Arthur in '03.
the material from that first reunion album - here represented by the
ebullient 'Dance Like A Monkey' now seems almost as classic as that
which preceded it, and is greeted with almost equal fervour.
band differ most noticeably is in their onstage approach. The Jaggering,
strutting Johansen of old has given way to a hypnotic, almost magicianly
figure, still feather-haired, denim-tressed and leather-clad but now the
apothecary rather than the dealer, fixing his audience with steely
concentration in between bouts of unashamed euphoria at the fact that
finally, everything seems to be working out like he planned, and
inciting chants of 'EXISTENTIALISM NOW!' from a bemused assembly.
seems divided between fans on the second night and Tarquins on the
first: never before has the anti-fashion rant that precedes the
walloping 'I'm So Fabulous' seemed so relevant, and it's these
proclamations, displaying an intellect (even if slightly misplaced) so
far ahead of your average rock frontman, that make you realise he will
NEVER be an average rock frontman, in the same way that the
multi-faceted, all-singing-all-dancing Sylvain Sylvain is no average
and second lead playing (when you can hear it - Wednesday's the first
ever gig in the venue, so there are bound to be gremlins) still falls
within that area best described as 'organised chaos', but now, he's also
supplying harmony vocals, doo-wop backing, percussion, and most
significantly of all, keyboards.
then, to his first love, which led him to contribute piano to their
classic 1973 debut, only now, we have a vintage Vox Continental, stage
left, adding an entire new dimensions hitherto undreamed to the setup,
and it both looks and sounds perfectly natural.
reminds you that while Davy Jo may be the frontman and lyricist, Syl is
in many ways the auteur, the architect, and the interior designer of the
band's vision, and nowhere is that more evident than on 'Fool For You
Baby' 'Talk To Me Baby' and Kids Like You', all bearing the cheeky-faced
Egyptian Jew's stamp of authenticity upon them.
sound problems, Wednesday, while excellent, never quite kicks into full
throttle until a short while before the end, but Thursday was one of the
most complete rock shows I had ever witnessed - from beginning to end,
it sped along on a whirlwind of creativity and sheer thrust most younger
bands wouldn't even come close to.
still bookended by 'Looking For A Kiss' and 'Personality Crisis' yet
again, this is till the hottest ticket in town - and while Johansen may
be unduly concerned as to whether there's a healthy state of
existentialism in London, or 'what we think of that German Pope', he can
rest assured that as long as he and Sylvain are breathing, writing and
recording, then the future of rock and roll is in safe hands.
Like I said,
this is not a nostalgia act, or a limited, straight-down-the-line sleazy
rawk'n'rawl band. This is a beautiful entity with a fantastic past and
an even more enterprising, unclassifiable future. Only a fool would
decide not to take part in it.