PUNK ROCK FOR BUSY PEOPLE – my review of the New York Dolls show, London March 31 2011
I’m going to see a band I have liked ever since I was about 13 but never had any chance to see, the NEW YORK DOLLS. They split up before I even had a chance to know about them, but I bought their records as among the first I ever bought (along with Raw Power) and I never gave up. Year in year out, trends came and went, but I always loved the dolls. And finally in 2011 I was going to see get to see them.
In recent years my gig-going has not been in the kind of dank and stinky punk clubs I grew up in; normally I go to a theatre or concert hall and get a nice comfy seat – no matter it’s Laibach or the Kronos Quartet. But this time I’m going to see the Dolls in a really weird venue: the tunnels located under Waterloo station. It’s quite obscure though. What, you have got to be born with a jellied eel up your ass and do the Lambeth walk to find the place? I ask at a minicab office and finally find it, grumpy.
I go though the so-called “Banksy Tunnel” a place open to free graffiti (little of it any good – no Harings or Basquiats here) and there’s the queue. Back in the day (I’m gonna be saying “back in the day” a lot in this essay, I can feel it) the great objective was to be on the guest list To be on the guest list usually meant being friends with the support band, since one rarely knew the headliners. It always paid off to have friends in bands cos then you;’d get to see your faves headlining for free and sometimes get invited to an after party. However, that was back in the day (now abbreviated to BITD) and I don’t know the support band, though I can spot someone who looks like he might be in a New York Dolls support band by the way he wears his jacket.
Inside, oooh gross, the tunnel is a real tunnel – manky and dusty and for sure full of rats. Rats making themselves scarce though, cos the place is quite full. I eschew the bar, that’s another BITD story, drinking beer, that doesn’t happen anymore. Absolutely not. Fine wine, and the odd Gray Goose, but not tepid plastic cups of beer.
I didn’t come too early and I can see that the venue room has started to attract people so I go in and claim my spot, The first line in front of the stage is already commandeered, just as BITD, by quite tall people. I take the second line with a viewing space between two heads and get a good view. And then we wait. Unlike BITD, most of the people aren’t in big groups of friend,s they are on their own or in small groups of two, and nobody talks to each other. Also, about 95% of the audience is either the same age as the Dolls themselves, or within 20 years – so, aged 40 +, some better preserved than others. I’m hazarding a guess that very many of them have not been to a gig like this in aeons, standing in a mucky hole waiting for a band. I wonder if they are as uncomfortable as me. It’s awfully boring. I guess BITD I used to come with an army of mates, we’d get quite drunk or stoned, and while away the wait perfectly happy. Now I am just bored out of my skull. Come on! I’ve been working at the metaphorical coal face all day, I’m busy and you are wasting my time by keeping me waiting for this band! BITD I used to take the day off school to rest and do my makeup and the day after too, to ditch the hangover and I usually would wake up somewhere other than my own home so any gig of note took 2 days really. Now I don’t have that kind of life, I’m BUSY goddamn it. Can’t we have punk rock for busy people? Can’t we just ditch the support band and the preamble altogether? Get going, already! When I go to a restaurant and they are slow to take my order I leave. I contemplate leaving, even though it was £35 for the ticket. I decide to stay.
At 9 pm the support band comes on and I am gratified to see that my guess about the jacket was correct: it’s the bass player of the band, whose name I don’t catch. They are young enough to be the sons of most of the crowd, but they have got themselves up in a nice late 70s new wave look, channelling the guys in Blondie kind of thing (to make us oldies feel at home? Or is it coming back in?) They are alright, but they are basically just a simulacrum of the band we have actually come to hear, and it’s sadly just not interesting.
I notice the nerdy girl in the green coat who is standing next to me with her appallingly geeky boyfriend is pushing me. Really pushing me, on the right. Weird, nobody else is pushing. She’s not even dancing, just pushing. Does she think I am going to move out the way and let her have my spot? Hmmm. BITD I would have dealt with this with a swift and terrible elbow to the side of the head and sent her, and him, flying. I might have followed it up by a kick in the groin or at least kneecap. And I am wearing my Kickers (some things do not change). But I am grown up now, so I just shove her back, quite hard.
The bad finishes after 25 mins and then we endure a seriously tedious 40 mins while the stage is completely stripped and set up again by the slowest roadies in history. Zzzzz. I think about the fact that I am reading The Lacuna and it is sitting temptingly on the sofa for my return. Waiting here is so boring, and as we’re underground with no signals, I can’t even twitter. CAN’T EVEN TWITTER. God help me. My feet hurt. gain I think about leaving. I think about The Lacuna. And cups of tea. And my husband at home, chilling out. Everything out side of here is warm and fuzzy and lovely and I want to go out, get on the bus and go home. And yet – and yet I do want to see the band.
Eventually, after the dinosaurs die out and the ice melts, the New York Dolls appear. Johansen looks pretty good for his age, whippet thin as always and his voice is tremendous. As everyone knows after the Dolls split he reinvented himself as Buster Poindexter and he has just developed as a singer over the years. He’s superb. Sylvain Sylvain’s a mystery. He’s 60 for sure but he looks 40, less even, although his hair is hidden and that might make a difference. And I’m sure it’s not Botox. Way to go, Sylvain – rock and roll; what doesn’t kill you makes you live forever.
They start with Looking for a Kiss and I’m dancing, shouting, singing along as if I’m 17 again. But, I think, I am going to have a hell of a bad back and sore neck tomorrow. I keep dancing. I’m glad I kept all my long hair and didn’t opt for a stylish city cut: I’m shaking that red rag for all its worth. Green coat stands next to me,The bitch is the only one not dancing. What a freak. The rest of us laugh and smile and hug each other, in the joy of the dance and music and the beauty of rock. Rock made with 4 things: 2 guitars a bass and a drum kit. The only thing ever needed to create a prefect sound. My god I love this kind of music. And Johansen – bluesy, boogie, punk, metal he can do it al and he does and he’s a master of ceremonies for all time. Their new stuff is a good as their old stuff. We love all of it.
They’re done. The lights come up. I reckon that in this mass of people getting out through the narrow doorway is gonna take ages so I slip toward the back. Amazingly the sightlines are still good even back here. Maybe I didn’t need to squish after all. I predict they’ll encore with Personality Crisis and again my instincts are correct. I dance along to that, and as the last notes finish I plan my exit. I’m one of the first out, and I step into the busy London night and find my way back to Waterloo Station.
I didn’t have a back ache or a stiff neck, so I might just do it again some time. But I’ll bring The Lacuna with me for the dead time.