Aftermath is not going to purport to know what the New York Dolls were like live, in their Thundered and Killer-ed heyday of kitsch and campy kiss-offs. We weren't even in Pre-K when Buster Poindexter was singing "Hot Hot Hot" on Saturday Night Live. But for chrissakes, they couldn't have been this awkward and stunted. (Thanks, YouTube.)
It can't be age, because folks like Mick Jagger and Iggy Pop are of an age when "one should know better" and they still look like feral cats onstage, stalking their audience, their wounded and alluring prey.
So then, what's wrong with what's left of the original Dolls, David Johansen and Syl Sylvain? They both seem to have their hearts in doing those classic Dolls songs, some of which are nearing 40 years of age. Hell, the guys even write and release new material with a group of guys that can't be but half their respective ages. Rock and roll seems to still be in their veins, if only for the benefit of nostalgia-fueled boomers looking to waste some dough on proto-punk legends.
Aftermath's hopes were raised when the band opened with "Looking for a Kiss" from their 1973 debut. The assembled crowd, full of aging glam-punkers and the new wave of Houston glammers from bands like the Ginslingers and the Wrong Ones, seemed to ignite with the promise of a hit-heavy set of classic Johnny Thunders-penned glam-thems and sassy snarls from Johansen.
What we got last night at the House of Blues was an hour-long set of sporadic and confounding re-workings of their bedrock material, and a whole helluva lot of middle-of-the-road bar rock from two dimming heroes and some rag-tag session men. All the mugging for the cell-phone cameras from Sylvain could not save this show.
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Seeing Johansen reading his band's lyrics from a notebook didn't serve the crowd well. It came off as him being careless and cheating. Even frickin' Jagger is kind enough to employ a teleprompter that's at least hidden live.
But maybe we're guilty of expecting too much from a band that lost three-fifths of its soul when Thunders, Jerry Nolan and Arthur Kane went to the big Max's Kansas City in the sky. It makes us almost thankful that all the Ramones died quickly in succession, in order of most importance, so that none of the rest would get any greed-guilded ideas.
In the end, this show served a multitude of purposes: For starters, we finally realized without a doubt that Sylvain and Johansen were merely second-tier to Johnny Thunders and Arthur Kane. Second, it dawned on us what a supreme team of badasses that openers Black Joe Lewis & the Honey Bears are.
The Austin-based R&B act churns and burns with an almost chilling virtuosity, sounding like they crawled out of a time machine from the Apollo Theater in the early '60s. Lead singer Lewis is like the spawn of James Brown and Chris Rock during one of his famous rants. The eight-piece act danced and flailed, fitting the confines of the HOB like a hand in a glove. The blessed hall seemed to get brighter and livelier as Lewis testified onstage, like the very floors and walls were finally being used for their original intention.