The New York Dolls are living (off their) legends as the most depraved specimens to terrorize early 1970s New York. Somewhere in the evolutionary chart between Mick Jagger and Steven Tyler, there was their lead singer, David Johansen. Johansen had an inauspicious beginning as the son of an insurance salesman and a librarian, but that doesn’t matter here. For He was a creature of the Grand Guignol, a phantom of the rock opera who piloted his ill-fated Dolls into a welter of drugs and lipstick. The Dolls main crime was that they had the bottle to slap on make-up. Their white trash performance aesthetic and r’n’b protopunk legacy lived on in everything from Iggy to Morrissey to Michael Stipe, to long forgotten 1980s metal glamsters like Hanio Rocks, Poison and the Quireboys. Yet the Dolls faded away, at least until the 2004 Download Festival. Perhaps it was better that way. Now they are back, touring everywhere from Southampton to Leamington Spa to Prestatyn, or to put that another way, the UK’s secondary markets.
Dressed like someone acting the role of a Bowery pawnbroker, the diminutive Sylvanian Sylvain still weilds his axe with phallic aplomb, while Johansen himself comes across as an unlikely elder stateman of trash, a specimen of spectacle with a large mouth but somewhat more mature ego. The rest of the band are probably young replacements, stalked by the ill-fated spectres of bassist Arthur Kane and guitarist Johnny Thunders. Unfortunately, the sound in the Academy, which is tucked behind Limestreet Station, is poor and muddy. The Dolls soldier on through various hits and a contrived attemp at ‘Ferry Across the Mersey’ (presumably so they don’t seem to imperialist). Does rock’n’roll age that well? In my experience it depends on the performers and the genre, not on their sheer will to continue. Living legends are one thing, aging rebels are another. As Johansen says, “If we don’t come back, you can contact us on the ouija board.”