The Metro Theatre, Sydney
Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Words & Pictures by THE BARMAN

This show could have fallen off its high heels and flat on its face, but somehow the New York Dolls came through with most of their make-up in place.

The portents weren't good.

Miserable pre-sales (I know - I forked out $150 for three tickets a few weeks out and watched as the half-price offers and freebies flew around) and lamentable pre-publicity did not bode well. You'd think the promoters might have managed some pole posters or handbills in shops. This was a sideshow to the horribly mismatched outdoors V Festival, so we shouldn't have expected much.

Maybe anyone who really wanted to see the Dolls had already dropped even bigger dollars for the following Saturday's V Fest? More likely, the prospect of just two original members in a Thunder-less line-up just didn't turn on those punters who knew the gig was on.

Compounding the above was the band's decision to stack the set with new material, with nine of the 19 songs from the so-so comeback album. So allow me to get this off my chest:

When you're dealing in nostalgia, and you're playing somewhere you've never been, your new album has been in the shelves for six months, hasn't moved many copies and has been poorly promoted by the local label, you don't use a gig to acquaint an ageing audience with songs about which they arguably don't give a rat's arse.

As much as I'm for reunions to have an element of ongoing, viable growth wherever possible, these Dolls simply should have hammered us with the (non) hits we knew and loved, not the songs they hoped would be bankable.

So why wasn't the gig a write-off?

Put it down to the David and Syl Factor. That in no way demeans the rest of the players; it simply underlines that what remains of the true character of this band hangs heavily on two people who are up to the challenge.

I actually felt sorry for Steve Conte, a more than competent guitarist sitting in the hot seat. The amount of punters decrying the fact that he wasn't Johnny Thunders was shameful. He couldn't (and wasn't trying to) be so grow up. Conte has grown in presence since those first reunion shows (on the DVD evidence) and three of the new album's songs are his, so why not?

The fact is this was a workmanlike band, a world and 35 years away from the spectacular car wreck that was the original Dolls. They couldn't sound like a shambles if they tried, but at least they weren't as finely-meshed as the Stones. Traces of slop remain but if you went along hoping to see some transvestite fall into their bass rig or puke behind an amp, you would have been better off seeking vicarious thrills elsewhere. They tell me Tranny Alley on William Street is pretty good for that sort of action.

Where the Dolls tended to fall down was their propensity to overdo the guitar fireworks at times. But what does a poor boy do when the keyboard player Brian Koonin's been left off the passenger manifest for the trip to Australia and New Zealand? More light and shade might have worked. A few people were convinced Koonin was on third guitar, but he must have been hidden in the wings because I never clapped eyes on him.

A Metro slightly more than two-thirds full greeted the Two York Dolls when time came for them to strut their stuff. Biggest cheers (naturally) were reserved for Johansen and Sylvain.

Syl's undoubtedly the musical soul of what's happening on-stage, leering as he calls a lot of the changes, coming across like your older brother gone to seed. The big hat never leaves his head so we never see if there's more than a sweatband filling it apart from the corkscrew curls that make it out the back. The guy tends to overdo the "wink-wink-nod-nod" bits in the between-song banter but, you know, that's fine in the end. Someone has to.

Everyone tends to make a big deal about how aged David Johansen looks but (a.) he is 57 and isn't doing commercials for Ponds and (b.) if he wasn't whippet thin they'd be bagging him for being fat. So what if his visage has more lines than a record company boardroom table at Xmas party time? He remains as magnetic as fuck and a living rock and roll wonder, with that lizard-like presence and gravelly Staten Island drawl (surely one of the most recognisable calls to rock and roll arms in trash music history.)

Even if we didn't believe his absurd claim that "Sydney, you're the best audience evah" we could still love him for having the gall to try and bullshit a city of bullshitters.

So who decided to put the set's brakes on by throwing in "We're All In Love" after the openers "Looking for a Kiss" and "Puss in Boots"? They needed to get shot for trying, to paraphrase the latter's lyrics.

The new material did grow a leg live, mainly because the lines were blurred between self-parody and established favourites, but the presence of biggies like "Private World", "Lookin' for a Kiss", and "Mystery Girls"in the set list would have been all the stronger if they'd been accompanied by some of their older brethren. "Showdown" should have been a lay down misere, given it was an Australian hit (of sorts) for the Johnnys.

The segue from JT's "You Can't Put Your Arms Around a Memory" into "Lonely Planet Boy" seems to have lost its sentiment this far into the Dolls' re-birth and "Pills" was kicked within an inch of its life with a pair of heavy metal, hobnailed boots.

But "Trash" clattered along like a NY Yellow cab with half its wheel bearings missing. Props too for a searing "Jet Boy", Syl just about clapping himself into a neck brace as the punters stomped along.

We sought and were granted an encore: the inevitable "Personality Crisis" and (inexcusably) "Gotta Get Away From Tommy" from the new David Jo solo album, sorry, NY Dolls record. Gimme a break.

Ah, maybe I shouldn't bitch so much. I saw two of the Dolls live. I had a great time. Maybe, one day it will please me to remember even this.