New York Dolls – Lemon Tree – 29/08/10
It’s the New York Dolls at the Lemon Tree. No intro needed. No bullshit support. This is America man. Its game on.
Two opinions on the night, first one is from New York Johnny…
New York Johnny, the pen-name I use here on Flares ‘n’ Seagulls to blog away the minutiae of my gig-going exploits (primarily as an aid for my ailing memory), is lifted from the lyrics to an old Clash B-side – remember them? (B-sides I mean, not The Clash!) However, the lyric is a direct reference to the late John Genzale, AKA Johnny Thunders, former shock-haired guitarist for sleazy, glam-punk fuckups, the New York Dolls, the band that somehow dragged themselves, teetering on their platform soles and bad make-up, into the history books as one of the godparents (of questionable gender) of the rock we call punk.
Of course, just as the Ramones were learning their first barre chord, the Dolls were falling apart in the typical disarray of drug addiction and bad business deals. New York Johnny and his drumming drug-buddy Jerry Nolan quit to briefly wow the early UK punks with The Heartbreakers while singer David Johansen and guitarist Sylvain Sylvain dragged a pickup band round the Dolls’ remaining contractually-obliged dates before calling it a day. Johnny & Jerry’s lifestyle finally caught up with them and they shuffled off to the Endless Party in the sky within months of each other at the start of the 90’s and that was that as far as the New York Dolls was concerned.
Or was it? Somehow back in 2004, a phone-call from Morrissey to David Johansen resulted in a reunion of the remaining Dolls to play the Meltdown festival in London curated by the former president of the Dolls’ UK fan club. This show led to others and, despite the death of another original member, bassist Arthur Kane, the Dolls appear once more to be a going concern, having spawned a brace of creditable albums and wowed audiences across the globe.
Somehow though, I’d never managed to catch them on their seemingly annual jaunts across the UK, always being otherwise occupied, or unable to get time off work, or just too skint to make the trip south. I’d heard a whisper a month or so back about the band being in Newcastle recording some new material and subsequently the Edinburgh and Inverness dates were announced. I was determined this was gonna finally be my time to see the band and was humming and haying about which date would be the most logistically and economically viable. But all the while there was something nagging away in the back of my mind. Maybe…..just maybe.
And then, there it was. Steven Milne’s announcement on the Aberdeen Music boards.
NEW YORK DOLLS @ The Lemon Tree – Sunday 29th August – 7.30pm
I knew it! Somehow….I fucking KNEW IT! And now there it was, confirmed in black and white.
Excited texts were sent. Tickets were duly bought and anticipation started building (despite some shit reviews from the Rebellion punk festival). I mean it’s not every day you have the New York fucking Dolls playing in Aberdeen. This is real “Legends in your Local” stuff, isn’t it?
It was apparent on our arrival at the Lemon Tree that plenty of others felt the same way. It was only about 8.20 and the venue was already pretty busy. The posters behind the bar clearly stated that the Dolls would be onstage at 9pm and yet the dancefloor was already full, people staring intently stageward, the air of expectancy was palpable. The DJ (there was no live support this evening) was playing a heady mix of The Cramps, 60s garage cuts and old time rockabilly. The crowd was a wide mix of people. Middle agers like myself stood side by side with glam fans, heavy rockers with teenage punks. I was pleasantly surprised by the amount of youngsters in the crowd.
And then, finally, they saunter onstage, loose and relaxed. The first thing that strikes me, bizarrely, is how big David Johansen’s head is. His body is long and lean but his head, framed with his Planet Of The Apes-like haircut and sideboards and brown shades seems immense. It’s split by the widest grin I’ve ever seen. He looks cool as fuck. As the others set up he milks the applause. “Good evening Aberdeen” he drawls in that familiar, throaty burr of a voice.
“When I say I’m in love, you best believe I’m in luv – L.U.V.” and it’s straight into Looking For A Kiss. The familiar figure of Sylvain Sylvain, diminutive behind his trademark Gretch semi-acoustic, pick-slides into the riff, intertwining it with the chugging of the other guitar. I realise it’s not played by who it ought to be. In fact, it seems both Steve Conte and Sami Yaffa (bass) are both posted MIA, presumably busy with some of their myriad other projects outside the Dolls. So tonight, the foil for Mr. Sylvain’s nimble riffing is none other than Frank Infante, guitar slinger back in the day for fellow New Yorkers Blondie. He looks the part with his slight build, grizzled features and backwards fedora perched upon his head and he certainly seems up for it as he duels gamely with Sylvain throughout the song. The applause when they finish is overwhelming bringing another huge grin to the face of Johansen.
“Here’s a song that Sylvain did.” he drawls and they kick into Cause I Sez So, the title track of their latest album. It sounds good and I’m heartened to see quite a few people in the crowd around me singing along and punching the air to the newer songs as well as the old classics.
All four albums are represented tonight, the newer material carefully selected it seems to sit comfortably into the set. Personally speaking, I’m just a tad disappointed that only Who Are The Mystery Girls makes it through from the second album but really it’s a minor quibble with the rest of the set being so strong.
Differing roles within the band are quickly apparent – Johansen works the crowd like the seasoned club-pro he is. He has the whole of the Lemon Tree in the palm of his hand as he conducts the crowd in numerous singalongs throughout the set, all the while flashing that infectious smile of his. He tosses flowers out into the crowd and people are clambering over each other in an attempt to grab them.
Meanwhile Sylvain marshalls the band, cueing them in for the endings and shooting a withering look across the stage should they mess up. Which of course they do from time to time……but in all honesty, would you truly want the New York Dolls to be any other way? While the new guys are obviously talented musicians, they haven’t quite reached that level of intuition, that “feel” that comes with being a regular touring band. A couple of the endings sound a little messy and, for me anyway, Private World didn’t really work, coming across as awkward and pedestrian. But these were the only wee low points in a set full of so many highs.
Sylvain takes to the mic at one point.. “For Johnny Thunders” he announces to a huge cheer as he chimes out the chords to the classic loser-anthem You Can’t Put Your Arms Around A Memory. Johansen leads the crowd through the chorus before the song morphs into a wonderful Lonely Planet Boy that brought a lump to my throat.
I suspected we’d be treated to the Dolls’ take on the Bo Diddley classic, Pills, offa their first album (which we duly did get, in all its proto-punked up glory) but what I didn’t expect was a spirited run through a medley of Hey Bo Diddley and Who Do You Love, once again ably aided and abetted by most of the crowd on the call & response vocals. The Dolls thrive on this stuff, having played covers such as these from their earliest days, and the band is clearly enjoying themselves as they tear up the old standards.
Trash was another highpoint for me, as they reverted it back to the full-on glam stomper it was born as on their debut album back in 1973. They did however slip in a middle section done in the reggae/calypso style in which they reworked the song on the most recent album, before breaking just long enough for the whole front row to bellow “How d’you call your loverboy?”. After some Johansen quipping about it being “lover girl”, they kick back into the song’s finale in the original style with the crowd seemingly split between joining in with Sylvain’s falsetto Oooooh-Oooooh backing vocals and Johansen’s Whoah-oh-ohs. Just sublime.
The set has whizzed by in a blur and I’m honestly surprised when the band takes off their instruments following a frantic, extended Jet Boy. It’s pity as it’s the first time there’s been any real movement from the crowd who, although very vocal, have remained pretty static throughout the set. Maybe they’re getting on a bit, just like the Dolls. Anyway, the end of the set is what it is and the band duly leave the stage and the chanting begins.
Before long David Johansen is back on stage in front of the mic. He keeps us entertained with his jive-talk while the band tune up behind him before asking “Well, whadda ya wanna hear?”. My shouts for Bad Girl are drowned out by the massed ranks demands for Personality Crisis. Of course, it’s the latter that they play, sparking another outbreak of pogoing at the front. The crowd, like the band, is putting their all into this final song. When it ends, I’m completely knackered. Breathless and soaked in sweat. The Dolls take off their instruments and link hands to give us a bow. The response is immense. As they start to leave the stage, Johansen pulls Sylvain back and the two of them stand centre stage, arms around each other, and give us a wave. Frank Infante cuts between them and Syl takes the opportunity to come down the front where he hands out the setlists and shakes hands with the front rows.
When they finally leave, there’s a few half-hearted shouts for more, but the DJ has already started playing again and people are starting to leave the venue. Me? I’m just buzzing.
The New York Dolls at the Lemon Tree? Who’s have thought?
New York Johnny
And now for Godzilla Blues take on the evening…
I just couldn’t quite decide about this gig. It was a surreal announcement to see they were playing in Aberdeen and although I was aware they have reunited and done a couple of new albums after some 30 years apart, I hadn’t investigated the result at all and couldn’t quite reach a conclusion about whether it would be any good or not. After all, I’ve seen a few ‘reunion’ shows where it was just a rather sad spectacle and you just came away thinking they should have left well alone. Also, Interesting Music Promotions had a rather nice double-header with The Low Anthem and Mountain Man going on at The Tunnels that I had planned on going to.
In the end I plumped for the Dolls for much the same reason I went and saw Bob Dylan at the AECC some years ago – how often am I likely to get the chance to see a truly legendary act in Aberdeen?
I’m glad I made the decision to go as they proved to be superb. Singer David Johansen and guitarist Sylvain Sylvain are the only remaining members from their early 70’s line up (drummer Jerry Nolan died back in the 90’s with bassist Arthur ‘Killer’ Kane departing this world shortly after their initial comeback) but to be honest it didn’t matter too much unless you are extremely anal about line ups (although I do draw the line at bands who don’t even have the original singer – Sham 69 minus Jimmy Pursey being a recent example).
Opening up with ‘Looking For A Kiss’ from their debut album, it was clear that they were out to deliver a good old fashioned rock and roll show and their years of experience was apparent, with just the right mixture of showmanship and swagger to show the po-faced indie boys of today just what it means to put on a SHOW. Johansen was in fine voice for the most part, there were a couple of wobbles, but his later period blues excursions with the Harry Smiths was recalled during many of the songs, especially the Bo Diddley medley comprising ‘Pills’, ‘Hey Bo Diddley’ and ‘Who Do You Love?’. He looked like he was having a blast, as did Sylvain. There was a nod to another long-deceased ex-Doll, Johnny Thunders, with a snatch of ‘You Can’t Put Your Arms Around a Memory’, Sylvain taking the vocal duties before handing back to Johansen. The set comprised a mixture of old and new songs – this meant I didn’t know a lot of the set as I only own the first album but while this can sometimes lead to boredom at a gig, there wasn’t time to be bored, the relentless pace kept my interest throughout. The end of the night belonged to old songs though, the set closing with blasts through ‘Trash’ and ‘Jet Boy’ before the band left for a brief period. It was always clear they were going to be back and sure enough after some entertaining patter from Johansen it was a predictable but welcome appearance for ‘Personality Crisis’ that closed the night.
Again this night just showed that Aberdeen is completely unpredictable in terms of what will attract a decent crowd, with the Lemon Tree being pretty rammed on a Sunday night. I think I was lucky that my visit to buy a ticket on-line that afternoon was successful, it couldn’t have been far from selling out. I guess my one complaint of the evening was the lack of support, I have no idea why there wasn’t one, pre-gig mentions of the Dolls equipment taking up too much space look unfounded to me and while the DJ set from Psychedelic Jim was enjoyable, I could have sat at home and listened to 95% of the songs he played….
Just thought I’d add a compliment on what I thought was a decent priced gig, £17.50 plus the extras. Easy to crank the price up for these tours but I think that APA got this one just right. My review? The gig just whizzed past, I’m not sure I’ve experienced that for a long time. Oh, and I think that the sound was spot on too. SB.
Looking For A Kiss
Cause I Sez So
We’re All In Luv
Nobody Got No Bizness
Better Than You
Who Are The Mystery Girls?
Dance Like A Monkey
Get Away From Tommy
Hey Bo Diddley / Who Do You Love?
Can’t Put Your Arms / Lonely Planet Boy
New York Dolls Official Site
New York Dolls on Myspace