New York Dolls at the Belly Up Tavern 3.10.08 Keith Boyd
Tonight my life was “saved by Rock-n-Roll”. While that tired cliché from Lou Reed might ring false, to many an ear this past Monday night at the glorious Belly Up Tavern it held true and then some. Despite my relatively humdrum existence I found that yet again the release and ass shaking spirit of music has the power to transform. For a few hours on a Monday night in San Diego I felt it and brother let me tell you it was a good thing.
My homegirl Gail and I tripped down the coast in time to catch the openers, We Are The Rage. And while they were highly derivative they managed to perk up a few ears with their Stones/Dolls/Faces/Hanoi Rocks vibe. They embodied the timeless icon of kids everywhere prancing in front of mirrors with a sister’s hairbrush for a microphone and KNOWING that deep inside their suburban hearts lurks the soul of a malformed Mick Jagger. It wasn’t deep folks but it was satisfying. Next up were locals “Grand Ole Party”…What can I say about them and remain kind…I think that anyone who dares set foot on a stage deserves props from having the nerve to do so but this ensembles’ hipster-reggae-80’s-Yeah, Yeah Yeah’s pastiche was too much for me. I liked the singer’s voice when she’d stay away from the high Minnie Mouse registers but those moments were few. Homegirl Gail on the other hand really dug them and felt that it was super to see a powerful woman playing drums and singing. She also could get behind their funk numbers and found it all to be pretty great. I just couldn’t help but feel that they were poorly served by being placed on this bill and that their pretentious tropes fell a bit flat.
Next up of course were the New York Dolls. What to say, what to say? I’ve been a fan for so long they almost feel like a part of my DNA or something. I had witnessed their revival via the GREAT documentary “New York Doll” a couple of years ago and when they released an album I found it to be powerful, fun and wise. None of this prepared me for the show. It was flat out excellent. The Dolls seemed blown away that a Monday night crowd in “mellow” San Diego could feel it this deeply. People seemed transfixed. They blew through classics like, “Trash” and “Hollywood Babylon” with energy and punch while managing to mix in a handful of tracks from their latest album and even throw in a killer cover of Janis Joplin’s “Take Another Little Piece of My Heart”. The Dolls are in good voice, in good shape and in the pocket. It was wonderful to witness the full flowering of a band that was cut-off way too soon. They not only revived their bombastic reputation, they one upped it. David Johanssen and Sylvain Sylvain are true survivors. They bring a style and panache all their own with their vaguely cross-dressed yet tough guy attitude. Although they are the only original members left, the three other band members have truly inhabited their parts and actually bring more punch to the mix than Johnny Thunders et al ever did. The Dolls were never about technical know-how. It was always and still is all about the feeling. It’s that thrill you get from a wild night framed by cold beer and a background of Shangri-La’s tunes. It’s Lower East Side energy. Score one for the power of Rock music to move and realign the soul. Much props to the Belly Up for their killer sound system and comfortable atmosphere.