Review and Photos by Tony BonyataIn the time since their last studio album was recorded thirty-one years ago three of the original members of the New York Dolls (Johnny Thunders, Jerry Nolan and Arthur Kane) have all left for that cramped beer-soaked dive in the sky. So why should anyone care that the two remaining founding members, singer David Johansen and guitarist Sylvain Sylvain, have reformed for a mini-tour of the U.S.?
Well, considering that this was one of the most (if not the most) important bands in the history of punk rock, just the thought of seeing these innovators of scuzzed-up, honest-to-god rock & roll once again strutting their stuff onstage and performing monstrosities from their two influential studio albums (1973's self-titled debut and 1974's stunning follow-up In Too Much Too Soon) was enough for not only the near-capacity crowd at Chicago's Metro last Tuesday night, but yours truly as well.
The New York Dolls not only helped bands such as The Ramones, Sex Pistols and The Clash take their first steps during punk's infancy, but were also the progenitors of the glam rock movement, performing in make-up, feather boas and drag at a time in the early '70s when even David Bowie was still wearing a big floppy hat and stringy hippie locks. But realizing that a couple of middle-aged men (Johansen and Sylvain are now both in their early fifties) parading around in platforms, pumps and purses for this particular reunion might look a bit ludicrous, the two remaining Dolls opted for a tamer, although still decidedly rock & roll, look.
Sylvain stomped onstage looking like a Bowery thug, with black pleather jacket with turned-up collar, large cuffed jeans, black boots and, what appeared to be, a wide leather hernia belt (like I said, these guys are no spring chickens anymore) with the logo of NYC's '60s and '70s rock & roll institution, Max's Kansas City, emblazed on the back.
In contrast, while not appearing as fey as he did when the Dolls started their career performing at NYC's Mercer Arts Center in 1972, Johansen still exuded more femininity than his tough-guy guitarist counterpart. With long brown hair, white baby-doll t-shirt and east Indian decorated loin cloth over tight black bell-bottoms, the rail-thin Johansen's moves were now more slow and snaky than the aggressive, in-your-face front man persona of his youth. While not as awe-inspiring, his deep, commanding voice, nonetheless, helped pick up any slack from his physical performance.
Joined by the more-than-competent musicians guitarist Steve Conte (Company of Wolves), bassist Sami Yaffa (Hanoi Rocks) and drummer Brian Delaney, the newly recharged New York Dolls not only ran through classics from their back catalog, such as "Private World," "Bad Girl," "Pills" and "Frankenstein," but also threw in a couple of souped-up cover versions, such as Janis Joplin's "Piece of My Heart" and the Shangri Las' '60s gem "Out in the Streets" for good measure (the latter a song which fellow New York new-wavers Blondie also covered earlier in their career.)
The brotherly camaraderie between Johansen and Sylvain was most evident early on after Sylvain complained that his guitar was out of tune. Before he could get it in the stage tech's hands Johansen snatched it from the guitarist and proceeded to chisel out a respectable primitive Delta blues riff, which prompted Sylvain to mouth along with a faux harmonica for nearly a minute. This spontaneous moment was not only humorous but enduring as well.
While commendable for trying something new, their recently penned Dolls' number "We're All in Love" was, unfortunately, the one plodding moment of the evening. Even though Johansen was more than believable earlier on when he growled, "When I say I'm love, you best believe I'm in love L-U-V" on "Looking For a Kiss," when he tried to encourage the less-than-enthusiastic crowd to sing along with the drippy chorus, "we're all in love" over and over during this newer number it just came off rote and forced.
Thankfully, this was short lived and the band bounced back with a resounding vengeance on the wham-bam-thank-you-ma'am triple whammy of "Trash," "Jet Boy" and their signature number "Personality Crisis" that carpet-bombed their set to a victorious close.
While the magic and mayhem that the Dolls used to conjure up three decades ago, when they had "Killer" Kane on bass, Jerry Nolan on drums and secret weapon Johnny Thunders on guitar, may have been missing from their recent performance, those lucky enough to catch the reincarnation of this historically important band (who proved that they're still able to trash it up with the best of them today) left as content as if they'd just seen the original band.
New York Dolls 05.17.05 Chicago Set List
Looking for a Kiss
Puss 'n Boots
Piece of My Heart
Lonely Planet Boy
We're All In Love
Who Are the Mystery Girls?
Out in the Street
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