NEW YORK DOLLS
Alexandra Palace, London, Saturday Oct 29 2011
I have to admit, I’m running out of things to say about the New York Dolls that I haven’t said before. Just in case you didn’t know: they’re my all-time favourite band (surprising considering that most of the others on the list are prog acts), they reformed in 2003, and everybody should go and see them, as well as buying or somehow obtaining all five of their albums so far, as soon as possible. Having got such pleasantries out of the way, then, let’s turn our attention to the actual gig in question, and the venue.
Let’s be honest: Alexandra Palace is a stunning, beautiful building, the kind of place that makes you proud to be a Londoner. It also features in one of the greatest psychedelic giallo flicks ever shot, Lucio Fulci’s A Lizard In A Woman’s Skin, and is therefore cool for that reason alone. And it’s in one of the few remaining picturesque parts of North London. On the other hand, it’s an absolute bark to get to, even harder to get out of, when there’s a rock concert in it, it’s staffed by the most unhelpful automatons I’ve ever met- although some of them may have been in the employ of the promoters. It’s difficult to tell, as at an arena show of any kind, confusion reigns paramount, and both the fans and the press are mere statistics to be herded in and out without consideration.
Due to this, when I arrive, the Dolls are already onstage: nothing, however, is going to stop me from enjoying them, and the minute you’re in the door, you’re in their world anyway. The bouncing ‘Dance Like A Monkey’ now seems more like an old fave than a song from as recently as 2006, welcoming you with warmth, and while their garage sound may seem a little lost in the cavernous confines of this great stone hall, with Sylvain Sylvain and Earl Slick’s guitar parts sometimes acting in direct opposition to each other, ‘Talk To Me Baby’ is so booming, echoey and moody by nature that it works perfectly. This is also obviously a lower budget experience (for the Dolls anyway)than March, so no keyboards for Syl, meaning ‘Kids Like You’ sounds meatier than before, but again, on reflection, it suits the general ‘rawk’ nature of the event. But the Dolls wouldn’t be the Dolls without those rapid-fire classics, and it’s therefore inevitable that the last half of the almost-hour-long set is devoted to them. “Who Are The Mystery Girls” “Pills” “Trash” “Jet Boy” and quelle surprise, “Personality Crisis” fire out in succession, each building in stature until there’s no choice but to sing, jump and stomp along.
Perhaps less engaging, though, are the twixt-song raps: for a man of such intellect and wit, David Johansen seems curiously keen tonight to churn out the same comments delivered back in March, such as “existentialism now!!” (which he also seems hellbent on getting the audience to repeat in both English and French) and asking us how we’re “diggin’ on that German Pope”. I’ve seen this man live in concert over 15 times, both with the Dolls and on his own, and he’s never been on autopilot before, so something’s up, although I’m not sure what. And Sylvain’s spoken intro to “Trash” is also beginning to sound dishearteningly familiar now. Still, he looks the absolute dogs bollocks, red leather and beret aflame, as does Slick in his Breton stripes. And so, in that respect, does Johansen- still smiling like the cat that got the cream, and strutting (albeit more slowly with age) like he owns the venue, his wild, angora-like mane framing his pink sweater and suedette jacket. So whatever the problem, it can’t be that serious. We even get a hint of his classic humour back at the end when he announces, as the band troop back for the encore, “I’ve just been talkin’ to the promoter and he says if we don’t play another five minutes we don’t get paid” Then again, it could have been true…
Despite struggling with the disappointing fact that a fair chunk of the audience didn’t seem to even know who they were, having their stage times arsed about, and a PA not suited to their intimacy, the Dolls surmounted all their problems like the true pros they are, simply by virtue of being the greatest rock and roll band in existence. And as for Alice? Oh, he was great as usual, but in case you were wondering, no, Shindiggers, he didn’t play anything from his debut two psych albums- although we did get the full prog-out of 1971’s “Halo Of Flies”, and as a final Halloween treat, he did bring out his acknowledged influence, “the only man scarier than me”, London’s very own Arthur Brown, to sing what else but “Fire” in full makeup to the amazed masses. Just goes to show, the Coop will always surprise you when you least expect it.
DARIUS DREWE SHIMON