Live: The New York Dolls Prance Haughtily Onward
New York Dolls/Black Joe Lewis Music Hall of Williamsburg Monday, June 22
The New York Dolls -- the two original dudes with the good fortune to still be alive, plus three sonically and sartorially like-minded newer recruits to replace those original members who were much less fortunate -- will take no offense if you prefer the thrillingly brash, iconic garage-punk version of "Trash" that appeared on their 1973 self-titled debut to the slowed-down, hammed-up ska remake that graces this spring's Cause I Sez So, their second reunion album, which vacillates between the thrilling garage-punk that made them famous and stranger, more disquieting flights of fancy like, say, doing a ska remake of one of their most famous songs. Tonight they mash both versions together into one unwieldy but energetic beast, our two survivors --cuddly guitarist Sylvain Sylvain and lithe, lascivious Lou Reed/Gumby hybrid frontman David Johansen -- prancing nonchalantly about, the guitars roaring quasi-melodically as usual, and this whole thing continues, against all odds and to their infinite credit, to not feel like a travesty.
Sez So will be no one's favorite Dolls album, though it has its moments (the snotty title track, for one, Johansen snarling "Go point your camera some other way" as he stares down a camera-phone-wielding patron in the front row), and tonight's show expertly avoids its lousier conceits (please to avoid "Making Rain," which sounds more like the Goo Goo Dolls). And death-mandated personnel changes aside, the band's commitment to glorious trash-rock still inspires: "Dance Like a Monkey" (2006) splendidly echoes the still-fantastic "Stranded in the Jungle" (1974). Hit the bathroom when Syl pulls out an acoustic guitar; hurry back when they start channeling Bo Diddley. And stick around for "Personality Crisis," still a smart-bomb of youthful vigor despite being goddamn near 40 years old and having outlived many of its creators. But not all.
Black Joe Lewis are a raucous, amusing, horn-laden soul-rock armada uncertain how seriously to take themselves, but listing toward Not That Seriously, which is for the best. "Look out for the big black snake," Joe counsels, and then cracks up in spite of himself. Neither James Brown's "I Don't Mind" nor their own "Big Booty Woman" are as disastrous as they might look on paper; "Booty City" is better than you'd think it would be, or maybe you thought it'd be great, I don't know. I am inspired to start a folk-rock band called White John Denver.
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