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Music Review: New York Dolls Live At The FIlmore East

Once upon a time in a city called New York a band called the New York Dolls were born. They played rock & roll music with attitude, energy and made The Rolling Stones look tame. Unfortunately they were very young and self imploded after a few years. Yet their influence on those who came after them can't be underestimated as you can see traces of them in everyone from the glamour boys to the punks.

New York has turned out so many different bands playing so many different types of music that it would be silly to say there was a New York sound. In spite of this there is a core group of bands and performers who I will always associate with New York City: Lou Reed, Willy DeVille, The Ramones, Patti Smith, and of course the New York Dolls. Each of them, in their own way, has an edge to their music that could only have come from the streets of New York City. Cool, a little arrogant, a little dangerous, and very exciting - just like the city that gave birth to their music.

In the late 1970's the names of Johnny Thunders, David Johansen, and Sylvain Sylvain had already taken on near mythical status among the punks I knew in Toronto, Ontario. By that time the band had pretty much broken up after releasing two albums, the self titled New York Dolls and the eerily prescient titled Too Much Too Soon. Maybe they knew that the neither they nor the world was really ready for the New York Dolls, for although they toured for a few years more following that release, the band started falling apart by 1975.
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When the band reunited in 2004 for the Meltdown Festival in England it was only David Johansen, Sylvain Sylvain, and bass guitarist Arthur Kane from the original band who showed up. Johnny Thunders had left the band in 1975 and pursued his own career until his death in 1991, supposedly from a drug overdose, and drummer Jerry Nolen had died in 1992 of a stroke caused by bacterial meningitis. While the reunion was successful and led to the release of a live CD and DVD, Kane died later that year from leukemia.

So the band who released the 2006 studio album, One Day It Will Please Us To Remember Even This and the recently released (June 17th/2008) Live At The Filmore East under the name of New York Dolls, could be said to be the band in name only. It's been more then thirty years since the band was put together and there's only two of the original band members left - just because they call themselves by the same name, does that make them the New York Dolls?

After listening to Live At The Filmore East the answer is a resounding yes. Sylvain and Johansen have chosen musicians who may not fill the shoes of those they're replacing, but they do a damn good job of bringing the same energy and attack to the music that the original band was famous for. Of course it doesn't hurt that Johansen's vocals still drip attitude and he sings with same amount of passion that he did thirty years ago, or that Sylvain hasn't forgotten what it means to play rock and roll guitar.

They come out of the gate flying with a searing version of "Babylon" and they never let up. It doesn't matter if they're playing fast or slow, the intensity and the energy are never turned down from the moment the first note on the guitar rings out to the last echo fades away on the final notes of the medley of "You Can't Put Your Arms 'Round A Memory" and "Lonely Planet Boy". This isn't some nostalgia tour, with some guys looking to regain some lost glory, these guys are intent on still playing great rock and roll.

It doesn't seem to matter whether they're playing an up-tempo tune like "Jet Boy" or one of the slower songs like "You Can't Put Your Arms 'Round A Memory", they still maintain the same level of intensity. I've always felt a special type of revulsion for rock and roll power ballads; there is nothing more insincere than some guy whose spent twenty-five minutes screaming himself hoarse about chicks and whatever, all of a sudden trying to show he's really as sensitive guy underneath. There's none of that pretence from Johansen as his level of emotional honesty doesn't change no matter what the song's tempo is.

The new band members; Sammi Yaffa on bass, Steve Conte on guitar, Brian Koonin on keyboards, and drummer Brian Delaney, play rock and roll with a mixture of freewheeling abandon and tightness that's always made for great sounding music. Not only that but they've also managed to capture the spirit of controlled anarchy that gives rock and roll the seed of rebellion it needs to be fully alive. Of course it also gives it that little extra bite that makes it sound dangerous and scares young girl's parents - which is how it should be.

The version of New York Dolls who appear on the disc Live At The Filmore East might not have the same names as the one from thirty plus years ago, but that doesn't stop them from being New York Dolls. This is a great album of rock and roll music played the way it should be played with no compromises for the faint of heart or delicate. Listening to Live At The Filmore East is to be reminded about what's so great about rock and roll.

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