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Personality Crisis

The New York Dolls jet back to life

By Jim Harrington

FANS BEGGED the New York Dolls to regroup ever since the highly influential band called it quits in 1977. But obviously, not all fans are created equal. Morrissey, believe it or not, was once the president of the U.K. chapter of the New York Dolls fan club. So when he was named curator for the contemporary-music portion of the 2004 Meltdown Festival in London, the former Smiths frontman put in a call to his old favorite band. That's all it took for the New York Dolls to make like Chucky and return from the grave to play two nights at the festival. But that's not to say it was all child's play.

There was the little issue that the group hadn't performed together in nearly 30 years. On top of that, three members—guitarist Johnny Thunders and drummers Billy Murcia and Jerry Nolan—had died. Many say there simply can't be a Dolls reunion without Thunders. And then there wasn't a lot of time to get ready for a performance that would be fully documented—warts and all—on a new DVD and CD.

"We had one night of rehearsal (as a full band) and the next night was the show," said Dolls guitarist Sylvain Sylvain, who replaced Rick Rivets in 1972.

"You kind of hear it in the recording. It sounded pretty weird the first time we tried it out in rehearsal. But it all came together. There are some train wrecks, but it's rock & roll. If it is not like that, we are just reliving something old."

But reliving something old isn't necessarily a bad thing when the archives still sound as refreshingly raw and urgent as this band's early-'70s work. The good news solidly delivered on Morrissey Presents The Return of the New York Dolls: Live From the Royal Festival Hall 2004 is that this sounds like a band that isn't through carving its legend.

The new CD features Sylvain, vocalist David Johansen, bassist Arthur Kane and newcomers guitarist Steve Conte, keyboardist Brian Koonin and drummer Gary Powell covering such glam-meets-garage classics as "Looking for a Kiss," "Trash," "Jet Boy" and "Puss N' Boots" (which really should have been used on the Shrek 2 soundtrack). The result, both decadent and glorious, will sound very familiar to fans of the group's two legendary studio albums New York Dolls and Too Much Too Soon.

Sadly, the Royal Festival Hall appearances would be Kane's last. The bassist, 55, died a few weeks after the concerts, due to complications from leukemia. Sammy Yaffa, one of the original members of New York Dolls-inspired Hanoi Rocks, is Kane's replacement, although Sylvain would detest the use of that term.

"There's no such thing as a replacement," he said. "But we filled those voids with the best people that we knew would fit in. I think we've got a smoking band. I think the choices we made were excellent."

On Sunday, the Dolls will play a gig at the Fillmore in San Francisco as part of a short, three-date West Coast tour. The current Dolls lineup includes veteran drummer Brian Delaney, taking over for Powell, who has picked up the sticks again with U.K. buzz-band the Libertines. In an interesting twist of fate, the Libertines will also be in town over the weekend, performing on Friday at the Fillmore.

"Go see them," advises Sylvain, who says that the last show to really blow him away was Hank Williams III. "I recommend the Libertines highly. They are the next generation."


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From the September 29-October 5, 2004 issue of Metro, Silicon Valley's Weekly Newspaper.

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