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New York Dolls rediscover old fire with new members


Chris Parker May 28th, 2009

Disregard your preconceptions about nostalgia tours and comeback albums, because this ain't Fleetwood Mac or the Eagles. It's the New York Dolls.

These are the former heroes of the dissolute and dispossessed, real punk godfathers and ground-floor bomb-throwers. Guitarist Johnny Thunders' barbed riffs pioneered punk's sound from Johnny Ramone to Steve Jones, and front man David Johansen was the Bowery answer to Mick Jagger.

NEW DOLLS
INSPIRED

With big hair, makeup and drag outfits, the Dolls may have been glam, but it was immediately clear the act was from the wrong side of the tracks, where one finds "Trash" and junkies "Looking for a Kiss." More a whimper than a bang, the Dolls' initially lasted six years and two albums, the last couple without Thunders and drummer Jerry Nolan, who left in 1975.

Although success initially eluded them, the shock waves were nuclear, to be felt for 30 years on until Morrissey, once president of the British New York Dolls fan club, convinced the remaining members " Johnasen, guitarist Sylvain Sylvain and bassist Arthur Kane " to reunite for the 2004 Meltdown Festival. Thunders and Nolan were deceased.

NEW DOLLS
The show was a hit and others were planned, but Kane died of leukemia a few weeks later. Sami Yaffa " once of glam-metal supergroup Hanoi Rocks " stepped in to replace him on bass, joining guitarist Steve Conte and drummer Brian Delaney in the new Dolls. It was Sylvain who invited Yaffa on board.

"He says, 'Hey, Jackson, want to do some shows,'" Yaffa said. "I was like, 'Why the fuck not?' It's five years coming up and it's basically because we get along really well, we enjoy each other's company and we all have the same outlook on how this music is supposed to be done."

Unlike many Jurassic rock acts reanimated and walking the earth, the Dolls aren't a surgery-scarred shadow of their former selves. The injection of the new talent has reenergized the band. Conte may not be Thunders, but the former Buster Poindexter sideman puts his own fiery signature on the sound.

"He's fucking all over the place," Yaffa said. "Conte is an incredible musician. He can play Django Reinhardt, he can play flamenco, but his first love was the Stones, Chuck Berry and The Kinks, stuff like that. That's where he cut his teeth."

The band's power is evident in its explosive live shows, which turn the stage into a giant house party. Johansen is a showman, with enough personality to fill a circus tent, slithering across the stage in a manner more burlesque than carnival " a shabby strut that's all self-possession and world-wizened indifference.

The Dolls' return, 2006's "One Day It Will Please Us to Remember Even This," was a middling effort that only intermittently captured the Dolls' hot gritty combo of R&B, British Invasion and garage glam.

INSPIRED
Certainly, their live shows were more inspired, and the new album, "'Cause I Sez So," reassures that.

"It's less slick and less produced, and I think that songwriting-wise, we take a few more risks on this one and went a little bit deeper with it. We went a little bit back into our influences from when we were kids," Yaffa said.

For the disc, the group tapped Todd Rundgren, who produced their self-titled debut. The group recorded dirty, with a more live feel than "One Day."

"He left it very, very raw, and we kind of shot it from the hip," Yaffa said. "He didn't want to get perfect takes "¦ so it was a very organic, very quick and un-produced record. That's why I think it works."

The good times are still plentiful. It's a certain rock spirit embodied by Yaffa and the Dolls " a blend of innocence, curiosity and enthusiasm.

"I remember when I first plugged in and it's the same vibe. It doesn't go away," he said. "There's something when you're in a band with five people, like we are, and you totally connect on that level, what you're about to do. It's a very, very good feeling."

New York Dolls with Black Joe Lewis perform at 8 p.m. Tuesday at Diamond Ballroom, 8001 S. Eastern. —Chris Parker

 
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