(willamette week) Last Tuesday night at Berbati’s, the glam grandaddies of punk rock — or the cooler upperclassmen who first introduced us, in fits and starts, to what this “punk rock” thing could be, back in the ’70s — played to an underattended group of devotees: the mohawked, faux-hawked and aged English professor demographic well represented.
Three years after their reunion studio album One Day It Will Please Us to Remember Even This, and four years after the cutting documentary about seemingly cursed band member Arthur Kane, 2005’s New York Doll, the fabulously androgynous troupe of romantically gutter-mouthed rockers made an obligatory stop at Berbati’s to stump for the release of Cause I Sez So, a surprisingly solid follow-up to their reunion release.
The strength of their latest (produced by Todd Rundgren, who was at the helm for their maiden voyage release) was its equal mix of vintage rebellion and the band’s collective resignation to aging (in “Better Than You,” Johansen engagingly declares, “I’m gonna see my baby/Find out how she gettin’ along/In the twilight/Of destiny’s last days…”). But this wasn’t the tone of their live performance, energized by an injection of youth (in the form of the emo-chic Sami Yaffa on bass and Steve Conte on guitar), when an enthusiastic, spirit-key-holding Sylvain Sylvain offered an endearingly upbeat counterpoint to a somewhat bored-looking Johansen. Johansen (closing in on 60) offered up a performance best described as Lou Reed-esque, with a Jagger swagger. Which is to say: the boys still got it, even if they do opt more for sunglasses onstage.
If you were expecting the heavily-made-up frontman from the Dolls’ heyday (or the fervently over-marketed, bag-eyed Johansen of the mid-80s novelty party genre), you would have been met with something more akin to an aging starlet trying to avoid detection at Nordstrom. And yes, that does mean that the blouse and scarf-belt are still in place.
The Dolls opened true to form, with a rowdy (if obligatory) performance of their recognizable “Looking for a Kiss,” followed by classics garnished by flagship tracks from their latest, like “Exorcism of Despair” (they showed a dogged devotion to the track list; if they had been guaging the mood of Berbati’s, they derailed when they failed to play an understated standout track, the cowboy blues-esque “Tempation to Exist”). But any omissions of new material were more than redeemed with their half-and-half rehashed “Trash,” part classic, part off-the-album reggae-style.
The Dolls brought the signature sound of snarling serenade and the piss-and-blood determination to fucking give us a solid show. In the twilight of destiny’s last days, they succeeded, reminding us of what it was like the first time, sans platforms.