Live review: New York Dolls @ the Bluebird TheaterBy Billy Thieme | June 2nd, 2009 | No Comments »
Are New York Dolls better than ever? Quite possibly — as hard as that may be to believe. Photos by Tina Hagerling.
I’ve never been as happy to be wrong as I was Sunday night watching the legendary New York Dolls nail a near-perfect rock ‘n roll show at the Bluebird. After seeing more than enough to leave a permanent sour taste in my mouth, I tend to view reunited bands and their late-in-life tours with more than a little trepidation (anyone remember Pixies’ truly awful showing in 2004? Still makes me shudder…)
New York Dolls washed that bitter out and replaced it with solid, rebellious, uninhibited rock flavor. The performance stood atop the last 38 years and crumpled all of the drugs, death and disharmony into a tight ball that David Johansen casually threw over his shoulder as he and the band enjoyed their moment.
Johansen and guitarist Sylvain Sylvain, the only surviving original Dolls, were joined by their “original” reunion band: bassist Sami Yaffa, guitarist Steve Conte and drummer Brian Delaney. In direct opposition to reunion form, the Dolls were absolutely better now than they ever were. Of course, there were throwbacks to early ‘70s Dolls, like their smug, sarcastic swagger, but these glimpses came across endearingly campy, rather than as smarmy attempts at self-imitation.
They tore through a 20-song set in just about two hours, beginning with “Lookin’ for a Kiss.” As soon as Johansen finished spelling out the intro’s “L-U-V,” the Bluebird was filled with flagrant, cheap and easy three-chord rhythm and blues, played with reckless abandon. Johansen, whose visage at 59 was the perfect mashup of Lou Reed and Mick Jagger, fronted the band as if he were 17, jeering at photo-ops like a teenager passing a mirror. Why not? If I look like Johansen does in low-cut, painted-on jeans and a short blouse when I’m in my late 50s (without heroin), it’ll be a miracle, and I’ll love it just like him.
As the set rounded out with both classics like “Stranded in the Jungle,” “Private World” and “Trash,” as well as newer material like “‘Cause I Sez So,” “Dance Like A Monkey” and the psychedelic “We’re All in Love,” Conte seemed to find his inner AC/DC, while putting on a damned good impression of what I’d always imagined Johnny Thunders must have looked like performing live.
This new version of the Dolls has developed some obvious and comfortable connections, both with each other and their past, and both musically as well as emotionally. The connection between them couldn’t have come across more clearly than when Sylvain led a medley of “You Can’t Put Your Arms Around a Memory” and “Lonely Planet Boy” that he dedicated to Thunders, and that I guarantee caused more than one tightened throat.
They ended the show on an even higher note with an encore featuring the classic “Personality Crisis,” seeming to poke fun at the fact that now, as a band, their personality is more solid and assured than it’s ever been.
Billy Thieme is a Denver-based writer, an old-school punk and a huge follower of Denver’s vibrant local music scene. Follow Billy’s giglist at Gigbot.
Tina Hagerling is a Denver-based freelance photographer and web designer. See more of her work here.