New York Dolls / The Urban Voodoo Machine – The Forum, London, 4th December 2009

Sylvain Sylvain, The New York Dolls. Photo Credit: Sandy Dhaliwal

The New York Dolls are back in full swagger, but need to have a word with their sound man!

The New York Dolls returned to the UK this month, in support of their latest release. Their seven date tour marks the end of an eventful year of recording and touring.

I was a virgin to the Urban Voodoo Machine experience, but they definitely left a massive impression on me as the opening act. Winning me over with what they call Bourbon Soaked Gypsy Blues Bop ’n’ Stroll, they played a fine mix of rockabilly, blues and folk punk but with a dark sort of burlesque cabaret twist to it. Sharp suited and possessing a mad energy that reminded me of Gogol Bordello mixed with Flogging Molly; the East London band were by themselves a great live treat already.

With the arrival of the iconic legends of glam and punk to follow, I presumed it would’ve just gotten even better from here. However after much anticipation of their return since their now legendary 100 Club show earlier in the year, this was sadly not going to be the case for me. The New York Dolls exploded onto the stage with as much zest and swagger as a band still in their twenties; with their adoring fans erupting to the sight of original members front-man David Johansen and guitarist Sylvain Sylvain. Steve Conte did his best to steal the show racing to the front and posing a little too desperately during solos; but clearly – probably even to him – that it was always going to be a two man show as it was the original members that everyone really wanted to see. Former Hanoi Rocks bassist Sami Yaffa didn’t court the limelight however, as if he knew his place in the pecking order and had too much respect for the original members. This sort of made Conte look like a bit of an attention whore, but by the end I started to love him for it.

They kicked off with the classic Looking for a Kiss, followed by the title track from their new album Cause I Sez So, which went down just as well as the opener; with its rock ‘n’ roll hooks and anarchic attitude. Better than You however took the tempo down a bit with this heartfelt melodic ballad.

From that point on, it got a little downhill, yet this didn’t really have much to do with the band and I can’t even be sure if they even realised the problem. As the song choices got more ferocious with the likes of Jetboy, Stranded in the Jungle, Dance Like a Monkey, Bo Diddley cover Pills and Trash, the harder it became to listen to. But merely because the levels controlled by the PA system were so high, it just hurt on the ears! It was disappointing because as the band played their hearts out, having the time of their lives, they were blissfully unaware of the fact that they were causing my ears to virtually bleed! That sound engineer should have stuck to selling their merch, as he may as well have been mixing cement! It actually made me quite mad, as I really wanted to love this show.

Looking at the guys on stage made me realise what showmen they still  and always were, with Johansen totally at home on the stage with his Jagger-like qualities, gruff vocals and powerful harmonica solos; while was Sylvain threw shapes energetically around the stage while rocking out with his killer rock ‘n’ roll riffs. The make-up and red PVC might have been gone, but their chemistry and enthusiasm for playing live was more than apparent; making me think that this could have been so much more had just someone kicked that guy out the booth!

However, while I was quietly getting annoyed with the sound man, no one else around me seemed to give a damn, losing themselves in their favourite songs from yester year. Though the crowd was made up of a variety of ages, you could see how the older fans were reliving their youth hearing these anthems again. If I had been around the first time around and seeing them in this capacity again, I probably would have been the same myself and not even noticed!

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