New York Dolls

The Return of the New York Dolls: Live from Royal Festival Hall, 2004

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Reunion shows by bands with a major creative legacy are always a problematic matter, and when Morrissey persuaded the surviving members of the New York Dolls to play a set at the 2004 Meltdown Festival in London (which he curated), lots of fans wondered aloud if David Johansen, Sylvain Sylvain and Arthur Kane had any real business calling this band the Dolls without the presence of deceased guitar hero Johnny Thunders (and to a lesser extent, without similarly absent drummer Jerry Nolan). Of course, audience sentiment is a fickle thing, and since the Meltdown gig turned out to be one of the last public appearances for Arthur Kane -- who, with typical bad luck, died due to undiagnosed leukemia a few weeks after the show preserved on this album -- this recording now stands as a tribute to the fallen bassist, who desperately wanted a gig like this to happen many years before it finally became a reality. So it's appropriate that while this doesn't quite sound like the New York Dolls, it does sound like the best Dolls tribute band you could ever ask for. While Sylvain and Kane doubtless added a lot in terms of vibe and esprit de corps, what really makes the difference sonically is Johansen; since he became a solo artist, he's displayed a certain ennui towards the Dolls' legacy, occasionally visiting their songs out of seeming obligation rather than enthusiasm, but here he sings his old songbook with real passion, commitment and force, and if his voice is deeper and less supple than it was in 1972, it's his juice that really brings this gig to life -- if this doesn't sound like the band that tottered on outsized platforms at the Mercer Arts Center, Johansen's performance suggest those days are still clear in his mind, and he's determined to reclaim their spirit in this show. Guitarist Steve Conte lacks Thunders' otherworldly snazz, but then again he doesn't make as many mistakes as Johnny did in his latter days, and drummer Gary Powell and keyboardist Brian Koonin fill their spots with aplomb; they're pros who obviously love this music and attack it with the affection it deserves. So, no, this isn't really the New York Dolls, but you'd have to be a great curmudgeon to fault the participants for use of the name, and this band of veterans and pretenders certainly did right by their mighty legacy on the evening these tapes rolled. Bye bye, Arthur.

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