New York Dolls, Garage, Glasgow
Monday 07 July 2008
"These guys", informs New York Dolls singer David Johansen, with a sweep of the hand towards his band, "were drinking in a bar at Dublin Airport this morning. At 9am." His chuckle deepens as guitarist Sylvain Sylvain stammers something about Irish coffee in futile mitigation. "You're a disgrace," rejoins Johansen. Good. Disgrace is what we're here for, after all.
But the good old days of disgrace are long gone, and the New York Dolls of myth – the ones who chained together the brutal fury of late Sixties Detroit garage and punk's even more primal Year Zero in the late Seventies – will never be heard from again with guitarist Johnny Thunders and drummer Jerry Nolan long deceased. Even the group's original reunion for Morrissey's Meltdown festival in 2004 is now of a different era, with the subsequent death of bassist Arthur Kane from leukaemia.
Yet Johansen and Sylvain, the original group's only survivors, have persevered with further touring, a third studio album and now Live at the Filmore East, a tour recording. In celebration of this latest event, the pair are on the road again, with a band whose most famous member was the bassist in metallers Hanoi Rocks.
Given their tragic history, though, the original Dolls maintain a cheerful disposition. The gangling Johansen wears a tight pink T-shirt and a perennial half-smirk that perhaps emphasises how ridiculous he finds this situation. He has acted in his time and recorded serious folk and novelty pop music, yet still his fans most want him play the part he mastered in his twenties.
The Dolls' reverence of excess isn't quite what it once was. "Glasgow, do you like pills?", asks Sylvain before their cover of the Bo Diddley song of the same name, but his tone suggests he could almost be asking for an antacid. And cross-dressing is also now beyond them, although Johansen's camp mime during Human Being's "Why don't you try me on a drag of that cigarette?" line suggests he still likes to play the androgyne where he can.
The Dolls' removal from their own context makes them a tourist attraction, rather than a band of seminal proportions. Yet by mixing the latterday foolishness of "Fishnets and Cigarettes" and "Dance Like a Monkey" with faithful versions of "Trash", "Jet Boy" and "Personality Crisis", the fact they're clearly in on the joke cuts them a lot of slack.
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