The New York Dolls were a pebble on the pond of Rock nâ€™ Roll that caused a ripple that would influence punk, post punk and â€˜80s hair metal. Yet the Dolls received only blighted praise and tragedy with fleeting riches and fame. Since their 2004 reunion and recent comeback album One Day It Will Please Us to Remember Even This, the notorious and legendary band have finally been able to take a victory lap, culminating in a tour stop at the Henry Fonda Theatre in Hollywood on March 7th. An appreciative â€œRodney on the Roqâ€ audience wouldnâ€™t have it any other way and came to celebrate the groundbreaking artists. In attendance were many hard worn musicians, fans and even reclusive actor Keanu Reeves.It is difficult to appreciate the impact of the Dollsâ€™ arrival in the early â€˜70s without considering the context of the progressive rock culture at the time. The New York Dolls imposed a new kind of threatening androgyny, campy intelligence and a rough and tumble sound to contrast contemporaries. The Dolls were not quite metal, not quite glam, not quite rock, yet all of these, with unlikely influence from â€˜60s girl groups such as the Ronettes, Shangri-Las and â€˜50s Rock nâ€™ Roll. Their purposeful sloppiness and flippant disregard for musical convention came to define punk.
There is always a fear years on when legends dare to perform with their mortality in full view. One too many cigarettes may have slowed the tempo of a few songs, but surviving members David Johansen and Sylvain Sylvain managed a blistering set with a little help from bassist Sam Yaffa of Hanoi Rocks fame and talented guitarist Steve Conte. A wiry Johansen has lost none of his spunk and sly humor, apparent when introducing the cover â€œPiece of My Heartâ€ with the aside, â€œAnd now the band we are most gay forâ€”Janis Joplin.â€ The lead singerâ€™s voice remains spry and he retains the grandeur of his performance style while howling classics like â€œPills,â€ â€œTrashâ€ and â€œJet Boy.â€ Sylvain took the helm for an acoustic tribute to Johnny Thunders with the song â€œYou Canâ€™t Put Your Arms Around a Memory.â€ The presence of the deceased Dolls was heavily felt on stage and a touching aspect of the live set. Encore â€œPersonality Crisisâ€ aroused the spirited aggression the New York Dolls are admired for, from both band and audience.
In their youth this band managed the impossible, to wear masculine drag with behavior that suggested they likely obtained their frocks after a good fight and petty theft. The dresses may be gone but not the edge. The imprint is set on our musical landscape. Reviving a band that has never been given its fair due seems just, even if it comes thirty plus years later with their pure grit and determination.