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New York Dolls Live at the Royal Festival Hall Review

Live. Released 2004.  

BBC Review

Many might have heard of the Dolls but won't know their stuff (many might know their...

Adam Cumiskey 2004

Arthur Kane works in a library. One day he gets an email from a fan congratulating him on reforming his old group. No, they're not a bunch of book cataloguers, they're the legendary US punks the New York Dolls. This is the first Arthur has heard of it. He gets in touch with his old compardres and lets them know he's in.

This anecdote is contained in the extramaterial on this DVD, entitled New York Dolls: Live at the Royal Festival Hall. A few weeks after the interview was filmed, the band had reformed after three decades and Arthur 'killer' Kane was dead. This gig - promoted by Morrissey - is a record of that historic reunion.

Many might have heard of the Dolls but won't know their stuff (many might know their stuff but not know it's them). So what was all the fuss about and is it justified now? John Lennon once said if you want the Beatles to reform, put on one of their records. When bands get back together there's often a combination of joy and dread from fans.

As the lights go up on this performance all eyes are focused on how the main players have aged. If you've not seen someone for a long time you'd study their faces. Lead singer David Johansen (ET in a wig) and Sylvain Sylvain (a rich man's Nadia from Big Brother) look pretty good (original guitarist Johnny Thunders and drummer Jerry Nolan died some time ago). Considering the band's well-documented drug intake, it's just amazing they've aged at all. So far, so freak show.

Soon the novelty of appearances wears off and you can see what the fuss was about. They've still got the raw energy that propelled them all those years ago. They belt out covers and their own tunes with all the electricity of a college band. The Strokes must be thanking their lucky stars that they weren't around in the seventies - they'd have never got a record deal with this competition.

The band put a rocket through the hall as they blast through a 'hits' set - mainly deriving from their first album. There's a tribute to Johnny Thunders: a teary version of "You Can't Put Your Arms Around A Memory"; with 'Killer' Kane's death just after the gig from undiagnosed Leukaemia, it's even more poignant for the viewer.

This DVD reminds you of how many bands are dependent on the early punk pioneers. It's a revelation for the uninitiated and a ruck down memory lane for those who still have the grey matter to recall them at their height. Rock-o-mmended.

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