Thursday, 31 March 2011
NEW YORK DOLLS in THE OLD VIC TUNNELS, WATERLOO
When Morrissey instigated the reunion of the New York Dolls in 2004, they played the Royal Festival Hall by Waterloo Station: grand surroundings, carpeted floor, chandeliers and soft padded seats. Last night they returned to Waterloo, only this time to play a makeshift venue in a labyrinth of secret Victorian tunnels that that lie beneath the city: dusty, dirty, damp on the walls and beer served from dustbins. For a band with such a dark history it was so much more appropriate.
But is it still really the New York Dolls with now only two surviving members? I’d say so. Well, you can excuse David Johansen and Sylvain Sylvain for recruiting newcomers when the rest of their original band mates are dead. The Who are still, just about, The Who but there the resemblance ends. As much as I love The Who dearly, they are, and have been for decades, stuck in the past, constantly churning out the same old songs or rotating their greatest hits with Quadrophenia and Tommy. The Dolls meanwhile have released three new albums which with admirable ease have moved them from a revival/oldies act to a current rock ‘n’ roll act, enhancing their legacy rather than tarnishing it. “Personality Crisis”, “Trash”, “Jet Boy” and the rest of the classics got, as expected, the loudest cheers but newer material like “Cause I Sez So” and “I’m So Fabulous” follow their tradition of sleazy glam-rock mixed with cartoon camp, as Johansen pouted, hands on his hips, and Sylvain threw around a guitar that looked far too big and heavy even for his fisherman’s frame. Yet their bold new album, Dancing Backward In High Heels, offers more than a rehash of their familiar sound. The guitarless, Farfisa lead, doo-wopish new single “Fool For You Baby” showed these old dogs have learnt new tricks, even if it sounds out of kilter with the rest.
They’ve played better gigs and to more responsive audiences but Johansen kept trying with the banter, probing for a reaction but it seldom came. Never mind, they were still great to watch and latest guitarist, former Bowie cohort, Earl Slick was a natural for the job, looking like he'd been in the band forever.
Backstage afterwards David Johansen couldn’t get out of the place quick enough. His on-stage Cheshire Cat grin replaced by a mouth turned south, although in fairness he did sign my CD and stop for a quick photo on route to the exit. Sylvain Sylvain is probably still there now hobnobbing with a big glass of wine in his hand. What a treasure. A little bundle of infectious energy, he was in his element lapping up the attention from well wishers and folk wanting to say hello and collar him for a picture, chat or autograph. As three girls draped themselves around him, he turned to me and said “isn’t this great?” Sure looked like it. I asked him some dumbass question about when was it most fun being in the Dolls. He said “every day”, before continuing in his best Jewish New York cabbie accent about making the most of everything, then cheekily added, “I’ve got my hand on her tush!”