Friday, March 7, 2008

Concert Review- New York Dolls; Monday, February 18, 2008- Phoenix Theatre, Toronto

Cashing in on a well-past-one’s-prime reunion tour used to be generally derided by serious rock fans, and punk fans in particular. These days, the Spice Girls can fill the A.C.C. night after night on their reunion tour, the Eagles' first reunion tour still deserves credit for pushing concert ticket prices through the roof, and one band after another has reunited to great acclaim. The New York Dolls started out trading on youthful exuberance more than on musical dexterity. Their songs were not as catchy as the Rolling Stones', but they were certainly as sloppy as the Stones ever were on stage. They tempered their Stones-clones approach with harder edged songs and took effeminate flamboyance to a whole new level for straight guys. This earned the Dolls a place in music history, by inspiring the seventies punk bands who would have been reluctant to have cited contemporary arena rockers like the Stones as an influence. The New York Dolls finally fell apart around 1975, but David Johanson and Sylvain Sylvain played together in the David Johanson Band after the Dolls were done. One could argue this is a David Johanson Band reunion as much as a Dolls reunion, now that three fifths of the band have passed on. One could not be faulted for having lo expectations of the reunited New York Dolls, especially after a lackluster performance from some British festival was released to an underwhelming response.

Tonight was the second time around for the current incarnation of the Dolls. Their last c.d. has one of the best titles for a reunion effort, the self deprecating “One Day It Will Please Us Even To Remember This”. As it happens, this is one reunion effort that has proven to be more solid than most; and the Dolls’ career in this millennium will have lasted longer and surely have made more money than the original band ever did. After all these years David Johanson still looks and moves like Mick Jagger, but given the historically campy nature of his stage persona, this is not a bad thing.

There were two surprises waiting upon entering the Phoenix tonight; first, the New York Dolls packed the place on a Monday night, and second, David Johanson’s voice has defied the odds and improved since the band first got back together. The band put on a surprisingly good show, and sounded tighter and better rehearsed than the original band ever did.

Sure, guitarist Steve Conte looks and acts like Johnny Thunders, but he can sure play those riffs. Sylvain Sylvain’s guitar playing still has its bite, and took a few opportunities to cut loose and play some of the Stones’ “Can’t You Hear Me Knocking?” along with other chunky rock nuggets. The band tore through Dolls favourites with energy that must have been feeding back and forth between them and the contingent of hard core fans in attendance tonight. They still do a good version of Bo Diddley’s “Pills”, and the show gathered momentum as they played “Subway Train”, “Jet Boy” and a particularly loud rendition of “Trash”. The “first finale” of “Dance Like a Monkey” proved the Dolls can still come up with a decent song (preferable to the ballad sung for Johnny Thunders) and when they came back out, they ran through a raucous take of “Personality Crisis”. Who’d have thought the ’08 Dolls would be so damn good?

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