It is now officially permitted for defunct cult-rock bands to reunite, provided that they meet a few requirements: They must have split before artistic fatigue set in, they must return at the behest of an esteemed peer or fan, and they must be able to muster a quorum of original members.
The New York Dolls narrowly met those requirements when Morrissey summoned them to play London's Meltdown festival last year, but no longer do: Original bassist Arthur Kane has died, following guitarist Johnny Thunders and drummers Jerry Nolan and Billy Murcia. That left just singer David Johansen and guitarist Sylvain Sylvain to lead the band now billed as the New York Dolls into the 9:30 club, where they performed with surprising authority Wednesday night.
Purists may well object, but this edition of the Dolls was more than a simulation of the early-'70s original. Indeed, some of the current lineup -- notably bassist Sam Yaffa, late of Hanoi Rocks, and guitarist Steve Conti -- were more reliable than their antecedents. Johansen pranced almost as lustily as he did 30 years ago, the backing vocals were endearingly sloppy, and the guitars (and unnecessary keyboards) melded to create a thicket of overtones that was a proto-punk flashback all by itself.
The set list largely followed the "Live From Royal Festival Hall, 2004" album, emphasizing songs from the group's first album and including an elegiac verse of Thunders's post-Dolls "You Can't Put Your Arms Around a Memory." The Dolls had to play "Personality Crisis" and "Trash," but they also demonstrated their flair for diverse covers. There was a Shangri-Las tune, of course, as well as a full-throated version of "Piece of My Heart," originally recorded by Erma Franklin but widely associated with Janis Joplin. The Dolls may not look quite so androgynous as they once did, but Johansen once again proved himself glitter rock's top almost-female belter.
-- Mark Jenkins