I have to admit that I was a little bit skeptical when I first heard that the New York Dolls were reforming.
First of all, make that surviving New York Dolls. And as much as I admire both David Johansen and Sylvain Sylvain, I just couldn't see the point of calling anything the New York Dolls that didn't include the late, great Johnny Thunders (not to mention Jerry Nolan and Arthur Kane).
The original guitarist for this trailblazing band, Thunders' greatest distinction was that he probably did the Keith Richards bit as well as anyone ever has. Thunders also probably had as much to do with the attitude that defined the Dolls as anybody in the band, and that includes lead singer David "Buster Poindexter" Johansen.
Unfortunately, Thunders lived the Keith Richards lifestyle offstage as well, and it eventually killed him.
What I remember most about the original New York Dolls can probably best be summed up by the one time I saw them play live, in 1973 at Seattle's Moore Theatre. They weren't even that good. But what they lacked in technical skill, they more than made up for with plenty of plain old rock and roll sass and attitude.
They also seemed to be playing a great big joke on the rest of us with the lipstick, the stacked heels, and the whole glam-rock schtick. Enough people bought it that the crowd at the Moore was dotted with more drag queens than I've probably ever seen under one roof in my entire sheltered heterosexual existence. But the truth is, their music was far more of a precursor to the punk rock of the Sex Pistols and the Ramones, than the teased hair and spandex pants of eighties buttrockers like Motley Crue and Poison.
So now the reunited New York Dolls have this new live album out, and to be honest I'm kind of torn about it.
On the one hand, it's great to hear forgotten, but nonetheless kick-ass rock and roll songs like "Personality Crisis," "Trash," and "Looking For A Kiss" played by a band that, you know, can actually play.
The new guys onboard — guitarist Steve Conte, bassist Sami Yaffa, and drummer Brian Delaney — are all seasoned vets who've been around the block in bands like Hanoi Rocks. As such, they make the New York Dolls sound tighter here than the original band ever did back in their heyday. The music here doesn't just rock — the band runs through the set like a locomotive — it also is freaking letter perfect, right down to the recreation of those original Johnny Thunders one-note solos.
And therein lies the conflict. The original New York Dolls always had this certain sense of dangerousness about them, that came at least in part because of their very sloppiness onstage. Because there was always the very real possibility that everything could fall apart on a moment's notice, this actually gave the music itself much of its immediacy and urgency.
I'm not saying that's lacking here, and quite frankly, it's a tradeoff that I'll take. It's just weird to hear these guys rocking as hard as ever, and doing it so, umm, "perfectly." On "Personality Crisis" even the wolf howls and the catcall whistles are dead-on perfect.
Who woulda' thunk it?
New York Dolls Live At Fillmore East will be available in stores this Tuesday April 29.