The New York Dolls: Ferocious & Fierce
The Metro: Chicago, IL
And I can hold my head so high
May 17, 2005
Cause I'm a human, a first class human being
Way back in the summer of 1987, while I was collecting numerous albums from hair bands, one name, aside from Kiss, I continually heard was The New York Dolls. Before Kiss made it big, The New York Dolls were among the first to wear costumes on stage for attention and for close to a decade, that is how I knew of them. With the death of Johnny Thunders, no one ever thought in a million years the band would ever attempt to reunite. However, in the 2004, there were rumblings that there could potentially be a reunion. The band reunited for a few select gigs in 2004 to rousing reviews and this past spring, they made their way across the country for the first time in three decades. I have dozens of music friends across the country. All share their thoughts and opinions on all facets of music. However, earlier this year many of them were making proclamations that The New York Dolls were putting on the best concerts of the year surpassing those by Green Day, Bruce Springsteen and even U2. One of my friends even said “I have seen the future of rock ‘n roll and its name is The New York Dolls”. Needless to say, with quotes like that, I knew I had see it to believe it.
While waiting for The Dolls to appear, songs were played over the PA system from old 78's as the set the mood for the evening; raw and real. A DJ from WXRT came out on stage and said "This is something I never thought would ever say; Ladies and Gentleman, in a few short moments...The New York Dolls" and off went the lights. Each member appeared in their 70's regalia of top hats, leather jackets and full of attitude right from the get go. David Johansen appeared to be collected and cool as he slithered onto the concert stage. For the next 85-minutes the Metro would be throw back to the past for a retro revue so fierce it would give any and all of the bands imitating The Dolls today a run for their money, no matter who they may be. They may look older but the sound, oh man, the sound was crisp, contemporary, vibrant and electrifying. In some ways this is what the savior rock n' roll should sound like. Upon seeing them live, I can hear where every great rock band from The Ramones to The Clash, to Kiss and even Green Day have stolen what they know from. The raw crashing sound of The New York Dolls is the seed of where garage rock in its current formation lives and breathes. Every artist Steve Van Zandt has played on his radio show for the last three years owes their dues to The Dolls. They are an example of an act ahead of their time. While their record sales will never give the band their proper place in the mindsets of the less informed, their sound is theirs alone. They stripped away the glamour of over produced rock in the 70's and helped give the guts back into rock n' roll. Both The Ramones and The Dolls found their roots in the raw pop hits of the rock music from the 1950's. They broke rock to its basic and core elements and turned up the volume. Synthesizers, drum solo's, over production went out the window was it was the crudeness of the music that mattered.
“Lookin’ For A Kiss” opened the show with the crowd singing it back to the band. Most astounding is this was an all age’s show and surprisingly, many of the teens in the audience sang loudest, even though this song was recorded during their parents’ high school years. During “Subway Train”, lead singer David Johansen slickly removed his leather coat and the sight of his bare arms made the place go wild. He looks like Mick Jagger, gangly and anorexic, but assured in his abilities. The tribute to Johnny Thunders consisted of “You Can't Put Your Arms Around a Memory/Lonely Planet Boy” which the crowd loved, a pairing of a classic Dolls song and Thunder’s most recognized solo hit. The Dolls continued to tear down the walls of the Metro by focusing on their self-titled cult classic debut (produced by Todd Rundgren). Even though this album peaked at #116 on the Billboard charts, it’s stature has only grown over the decades. Ten of the album’s eleven tracks would be performed (only “Vietnamese Baby went unaired). Killer covers of “Another Piece of My Heart” and the Shangri-La’s “Out In The Street” came off like Doll originals and the band even performed a few tunes (“Puss ‘N’ Boots”, “Who Are The Mystery Girls?”, “Human Being”) from their out-of-print second album “Too Much Too Soon”. No moment went wasted as the band delivered a unswerving 80-minute set that made one realize that sometimes the best and most profound art is not appreciated until years later. Look at Van Gogh. I’m happy to say, that unlike Van Gogh, The New York Dolls are finally reaping some rewards as one of rock’s truly illustrious bands. As I peered around the room I could not help but think, this is kick ass rock ‘n roll at its rawest.
I may ruffle some feathers with my next statement, but as I observed the band interact and perform, I knew this is the best the Dolls have ever been as a live unit. In the 70’s they were a bit shoddy with their playing, but tonight at the Metro they were unyielding and ferocious as they threw around guitar hooks like knives in a gang fight. No disrespect to the original incarnation of the band, but the bootlegs I have heard over the years could not compare to the musicianship of this band today. I missed out on the glories of the rock of the 70’s since I was not born until well after the mid point of the decade. I missed seeing acts like Bowie, Kiss, Aerosmith, The Faces and The Rolling Stones with Mick Taylor in smaller and grittier surroundings. There was nakedness to their records and live shows. Today, I have seen many of these bands live and they do sound immense, especially Aerosmith and The Rolling Stones. However, that moment in time is impossible to recapture. Yet, somehow, The Dolls took me back in a time machine thirty-years as they delivered a uncompromising set of down and dirty rock n’ roll. In all honesty, the only acts I have seen who have made me feel like I was in the trenches of rock’s glory days of the 1970's is Alice Cooper. He still has a lethal presence on the concert stage and liberates the crowd every night. While the other acts still shine, it’s under a much bigger light and the brighter that light, sometimes the more blinding it can be to the artist, their music and their mission the bring the music to the people. However, for a brief 80-minute period in the walls of the Metro, The New York Dolls brought me to a time and place where this music felt more than just powerful, but treacherous and revitalizing as well.
The faces on stage at the Metro were different than they were thirty years ago. Original guitarist Johnny Thunders passed away from a drug overdose in early 1991. Mere month’s later, drummer Jerry Nolan died of a sudden stroke at the age of 40. However, in early 2004 when the Dolls reunited for the Meltdown Festival, they won rave reviews. However, that glory would be short lived as original bassist Arthur Kane checked himself into the hospital for what he thought was a severe case of the flu. It turned out to be leukemia and the New York Dolls lost the third member of its band days later. A rousing tribute to Kane was given by the Dolls a few weeks later at Steve Van Zandt’s Underground Garage Festival where the Dolls once again proved that they still have the goods with former Hanoi Rocks bassist Sami Yaffa filling in for Kane. Yaffa also knows what it’s like to be at the forefront of a revolution, only to lose early battles and see others take the glory when the war was won. Hanoi Rocks, like The New York Dolls, are a band ahead of their time and while their music is not easy to find on record shelves today, their influence is irrefutable. Needless to say, Sami has found a true home with the Dolls. Filling out the band quite nicely is Brian Delaney (drums), Brian Koonin (keyboards) and Steve Conte (guitar) who tears through the songs like an up and coming musicians wanting to take over the world. Original rhythm guitarist Syl Sylvain led the newcomers and the crowd like a proud godfather encouraging the band and crowd to new heights with his infectious enthusiasm. When he is not strumming on his guitar or sharing a mic, Syl's fists are in the air encouraging the crowd to cheer rock’s oldest and newest heroes along. David Johansen, where do I even begin? My generation most likely knows him from his lounge singer alter-ego Buster Poindexter, however, if one thinks that is what this man is made of, they are seriously misguided. He’s skinnier than Mick Jagger and even though he does not headline stadiums like Sir Mick, his stage persona is equal to Jagger’s. He prowled the stage like a seasoned veteran never resting on his laurels. David Johansen is like a snake in the desert, rough around the edges, but still poisonous and deadly when delivering a rock ‘n roll sermon with his voice and harp in tow.
To anyone who feels that this is a short lived nostalgia fest are sadly mistaken as the new song they performed, “We Are In Love” was my favorite moment of the evening. The infectious groove of the song deserves to be found on MTV2 when The Dolls return with a new record on Roadrunner Records in the near future. The crowd say along to a song never heard before, a sign of a damn fine song. The show was short and sweet and after hearing “We Are In Love”, I knew this would not be the last time I hear from The Dolls, but the first in what hopefully is a fortuitous second life. I’m not sure about the other 1,100 in attendance at the Metro, but I walked in liking The New York Dolls, but walked out knowing I would have future dates with this band, as I was falling in love with them. Hey, it may only be rock ‘n roll and not only do I like it, but I love it.
And if I've got to dream
I said well, I'm a human being
1. Lookin' For a Kiss
2. Puss ‘N’ Boots
3. Subway Train
4. Piece of My Heart
5. Bad Girls
6. You Can't Put Your Arms Around a Memory/Lonely Planet Boy
7. Private World
9. We Are In Love
10. Who Are The Mystery Girls?
12. Out In The Streets
14. Jet Boy
15. Personality Crisis