Wednesday Night: New York Dolls at Culture Room

Categories: Concert Review
NewYorkDolls.jpg
David Johansen of the New York Dolls at the Culture Room on Wednesday
New York Dolls 
Wednesday, June 10, 2009 
Culture Room, Ft. Lauderdale 

Better than: A half-authentic tribute act. 

Maybe I'm a natural-born negative creep. Or maybe my inner lonely planet boy has been shocked out of his bubble a few too many times by the cruel, harsh realities of our post-punk cash-grab cabaret age. But whichever way you choose to psychoanalyze my skepticism, the truth is I went to the Dolls midweek show fully expecting to watch one of my musical heroes, frontman David Johansen, battling symptoms of senile rockstar breakdown. Well, I was wrong.

At precisely 10:30 p.m., the room went dark and a neon-red New York Dolls logo began to glow ugly and menacing on the projection screen behind the stage while a snippet of random opera blasted through the waiting, roiling crowd. The band, minus Johansen and Sylvain Sylvain, strode out in silent darkness. They took their positions; a trio of Central Casting filler with the guitar guy in Johnny Thunders doppelganger gear. There was a pause, then a blast of drums as the OGs came out. 
Sylvain bounced onstage, short and stocky in plaid and black. But behind him, Johansen crept from the darkness in a series of slo-mo, almost underwater movements as if he had just emerged from some kind of cryogenic deep freeze. I was worried. He seemed too pale, brittle. But he also looked cool in pimped-out 70s street punk clothes: sheer leopard-print blouse, low-rise bellbottom nut-huggers, cream-colored disco cowboy boots. And with a perverse croak of "When I say I'm in love, you best believe I'm in love ... L-U-V," Johansen and the band opened with a crisp yet dirty version of the 1973 classic "Looking for a Kiss," followed quickly by three tracks of post-reunion material -- "'Cause I Sez So," "We're All in Love," and "Dance Like a Monkey." 

It was somewhere in the midst of the fourth song that Johansen started showing positive signs of slow thaw. He swiveled his hips. He jangled his man-junk. He orchestrated crowd reaction with a pair of crooked index fingers and a weird little grin. And when Sylvain saluted him as "the original monkey man," Johansen responded with thirty seconds of fiendish simian screeches and scatting over jags of glam-punk noise. Then, the Dolls drove through a solid middle section heavy with more new stuff ("Nobody Got No Bizness," "Gotta Get Away from Tommy," and "My World") before diving into old faves such as "Trash" and "Pills" to finish just minutes from midnight. 

But the crowd wasn't ready to let go. I wasn't ready to let go. And we screamed and chanted until Johansen, Sylvain, and crew stalked back out for their encore, a majestically meandering, ten-minute take of "Personality Crisis" that was, to quote the man on the mic, "a mind excursion to the center of infinity." Everyone -- the black six-foot go-go girl tranny to my right, the matching mom-and-daughter duo behind me, the dads in Who tour t-shirts and sandals surrounding the stage, and my doubting ass -- got a good, deep glimpse of the freak side. And it was good. 

Critic's Notebook 

Personal Bias: As far as sixtysomething punks, Iggy outdoes them all. Even without the broken bottles and peanut butter, he remains insane. 

Random Detail: A four-foot-tall androgynous dynamo who, bald-headed and dressed in an all-white undershirt-and-jeans combo with a black silk tie knotted around the throat, danced wildly through the crowd for two solid hours while effortlessly double-fisting cigarettes and mixed drinks. She/he was wondrous. 

By the Way: Last month, the Dolls released their latest album 'Cause I Sez So. It's not exactly the Second Coming. But they want your money and they deserve your money.

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