New York Dolls, Royal Festival Hall, London
Friday 18 June 2004
It was only to be expected that the reunion of the New York Dolls would be raucous and naughty, decked out in leather and taffeta, high heels and badly applied eyeliner. What was more surprising was the emotion that came off the stage in waves. The tone of the evening had been set by a quote from TS Eliot's poem "Little Gidding" hung above the stage: "We shall not cease from exploration/ And the end of all our exploring/ Will be to arrive where we started/ And know the place for the first time."
The six-strong band that reformed on Wednesday night at the behest of Morrissey for his Meltdown festival is technically only half-strength, with the three surviving Dolls augmented by a trio of Action Men that includes Izzy Stradlin, the guitarist from Guns N' Roses, stepping into the mighty boots of the late Johnny Thunders. There had been a whisper that Chrissie Hynde would be performing axe duties, but she would have introduced an unnecessarily butch note into this most flamboyantly feminine outfit. On drums, Gary Powell of The Libertines replaced Jerry Nolan, who died in 1992, a year after Thunders. You feared for him hanging out with these notorious pre-punk reprobates. It was like a shoplifter being forced to share a prison cell with hardened bank robbers. What bad habits might be passed on to this young buck?
Well, he could do worse than inherit some of the Dolls' camaraderie. You could feel how glad they were, not to just to see one another, but to be gathered together at an occasion that wasn't a funeral. When the singer, David Johansen, gestured to the lolloping bassist and exclaimed: "That... is... Arthur... 'Killer'... Kane," it was as though he couldn't believe it himself. Of course, Arthur is no longer the dazzling Rapunzel he once was, while Johansen himself might consider allowing a crumb of food to pass his lips if he is to stay the right side of the grave. "Skinny" isn't the word. "Skeletal" is. I hear he weighs in at nine stone these days, but that must include his mini-bouffant, chunky shades and a collection of coloured beads that is the equivalent of bling-bling for anyone who shops at Cancer Research.
The guitarist Sylvain Sylvain looked in rude health, though, and it was the banter between him and Johansen that made the breaks between numbers as pleasurable as the delirious songs themselves. "What we had - that wasn't sex," Johansen warned Sylvain, who shot back: "My mama said it was." Later, he claimed to be a lesbian. Happy days.
The songs rattled along pleasantly, neither as messy nor as messed-up as you remembered them. There was a tribute to Thunders in "You Can't Wrap Your Arms Around a Memory", which blurred into "Lonely Planet Boy". And Johansen clearly savoured the "I remember when you were children" line from "Frankenstein", pointing as he sang it at the ageing fans, who are no longer quite up to pogoing.
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