NY Dolls And Black Joe Lewis And The Honeybears At Higher Ground Wednesday June 24, 2009

Words by Tim Lewis.

After regaining strength from the cold that took me down the previous weekend I wasn’t sure what shape I’d be in for the Dolls show on Wednesday. Fortunately the weather turned from gray, rainy, and cool every day to be sunny and warm and I began to feel better.

Wednesday was a long workday and when I got home there was just enough time to change and head up the hill to meet my parents at the local ballpark for a barbeque and the beginning of a baseball game. The food was fine, the company great and as we settled in for the game the Lake Monsters seemed to be holding their own. I hung out for a bit, said hi to Rich and then walked over to Higher Ground.

It was a bit surreal to think of moving into a dark club while the sun was blazing and there was a piece of a rainbow standing against the sky like an obelisk, but my love of music is a driving force and step after step brought me closer to the show.

I was a bit slacking on my timing and was pretty sure Black Joe Lewis and the Honeybears would be on when I arrived. I was correct so I grabbed a drink and wandered toward the front of the fifth or quarter full Higher Ground ballroom. They had the back bar closed and the area roped off as there was plenty of room on the floor. Twenty bucks for rock legends seemed an ok price for me but apparently the rest of Burlington was not in the know.

Black Joe Lewis stood at center stage jamming away on his guitar while his guitar bass drums trio jammed out the bluesy funk on one side and the three horn players kept it tight on the other. It was obvious from the onset that they were good and tight but as it’s not my favorite variety, I wondered if it would move me.

The first couple of songs were ok then it got odd. They played a song where he sent away the horn section and brought them back one at a time for a solo. One would play a bit then Joe chased him offstage waving a towel. It was kind of odd and he was kind of losing me.

For the next song he had one of the horn players (I don’t know who is who, I’ve seen a list of band members but cannot find a list of whom plays what) go dance with someone in the audience. He asked one woman if she wanted to come up and dance with the guy. She declined but a girl from the back came foreword. The horn player went to the floor and the audience gave them a circle to dance in while the band played on. It was cute and gimmicky and brought me into the show.

A song that was something about a prison break was pretty cool and as the evening progressed it became obvious how good a front man Lewis is. People were having fun and getting into the show and periodically he would let loose with some killer guitar playing. He avoided stinging leads and kept the frantic fretwork in the middle and lower tones so it did not stand out as much, but still was some kick ass playing.

They ended the set with a slow number that built in intensity. Each note bounded off the drums harder until after a wile the drummers glasses started slipping off his face. At one point the intensity picked up and poof they hit the ground. Over on the right the bass player, who looked eerily like Bill Hicks, had his head tilted back as far as he could as his glasses had fallen around his mouth and nose. A couple of open notes later and the guitar player was able to pick them off so he could stand up straight and finish the show.

It took a wile to get me into the show but I’m glad I put in the effort. They were a fun band to see and I hope they go far.

I knew my ex boss from a few years ago at Gardeners would be there. Bob Cayia was the first one to tell me about the show. He had been looking around and saw the Dolls were touring and checked the dates and was stunned to see Burlington was on the list.

I had not seen him yet but in the set break I found him, his wife and one of the other members of his band Big Boots Deville right at the front of the stage. Despite a speaker cabinet being knocked over and landing on his foot, he had a good time with the openers, but was definitely there for the Dolls. After hanging for a bit I needed another drink and wandered out and ran into John Perry. Years ago a bunch of us used to go to Nectars for breakfast and talk about obscure movies and punk rock and such. Now the discussion was swapped for the reality of what was about to occur.

Continuing on around the room I was near the doors when Ornan walked in. Diane and Becky, also of the Dirty Blondes, quickly followed him. Cool, not only are they a great band but they support music too. You’ve gotta love that.

Ah, the New York Dolls. I’ve got to admit I know more of them than a lot about them. They were a prominent New York band for a while and inspired much of the punk and new wave scene to follow. As a kid I started leaning about music through metal. I soon followed into punk and somewhere around there got an album by Johnny Thunders. I liked it ok but I liked other bands better and dedicated myself to them. I was always a bit curious about the Dolls though.

Growing up with good radio (I could get Chez 106 from Ottawa on my clock radio in Shelburne) they played some of the solo David Johansen songs like his take on We Gotta Get out of This Place/Don’t Bring Me Down/It’s My Life. They made a big deal out of his doing these songs, as well they should. I did not understand the history at the time but his voice was oh so cool and his band rocked hard.

I appreciated his work as the cab driver in the movie Scrooged, and noticed his work as Buster Poindexter though did not pay much attention.

My next connection with the Dolls came a year or so ago when I was flipping around looking for a movie to watch when I came across New York Doll. I checked it out and oh my god what a movie. Really, if you have not seen it, check it out. It is about the Dolls bass player Arthur Kane. You meet him at the beginning of the movie and watch as he reacts to an invitation to come back and play a reunion show with the NY Dolls. He has a huge wariness due to a falling out with David many years ago but gets his act together and does it. It’s a great movie and a powerful document to things that can happen. Really go watch it now.

I approached this show with a large amount of curiosity, yearning, and if nothing else I hoped they would just rock hard and be fun. It turned out that I was to be well provided for on all fronts. From the operatic opening music that lead into Looking for a kiss to the final encore of Personality Crisis (the only song that I knew, as it’s in the movie Velvet Goldmine), The New York Dolls just laid in and rocked! Everything sounded great and had an upbeat mood. The small but ferocious crowed was very into it as the band ground out a mix of the new and classic. Their second song was the title track from the new album Cuz I Sez So and rocked just as hard as the opening classic. Muddy Bones stood up to Who Are the Mystery Girls? Trash mixed the two as the updated version on Cuz has a reggae flavor and the version they played live came on like a punk, then went Jamaican for a bit then back to the punk.

At one point before a song David asked if people in Vermont like pills. He then commented that we were the quietest audience in response to that question that he had seen. We became loud again as the band played a killer version of the song Pills. Stranded in the Jungle was fun with the heavy drum rhythms and assorted screeching monkey sounds. Nobody Got No Bizness addressed the nature of calling yourself a band when three of the five members were not originally in the band. The simple bold statement Nobody got no bizness like the New York Dolls got no bizness was a like us or don’t anthem. And hey what can you do? The other three Dolls have died. The three new players, Guitarist Steve Conte, bassist Sammy Yaffa and drummer Brian Delaney all were excellent and brought the energy for Johansen and guitarist Sylvain Sylvain to take over the top.

While the set was a mix of the new and old, the energy of the night was about going foreword. The past was highlighted when Yaffa dedicated one of the songs (I missed which) to Killer Kane. It came alive when David draped his arm over Sylvain as they sang a bit of the Johnny Thunders classic You Can’t Put Your Arms Around a Memory, but even that poignant moment was more about recognizing the past while you are moving foreword. From my point of view, this version of the band rocks hard and should keep moving foreword as long as it feels able to pump out the kind of manic energy they displayed on Jet Boy, which ended the set. If that’s what you’ve got guys, keep it going.


This post was originally published by Tim Lewis at his personal blog, https://timstriangletribune.wordpress.com.