Personality crisis? Not these fellas

Special to The Times

The feathered boas were twirled around the mike stands, the balloons were affixed to the speaker stacks, the hot pink binder of song lyrics was open to the appropriate spot, but the New York Dolls were not onstage yet.

Despite this significant last detail, the beefy boy and the batty, battered rocker chick toward the left of the crowd were still yelling out song requests to the invisible band.

“Traaaaash!” “Jet Boooooy!”

After the Tower Records rep took the stage to announce that the Dolls wouldn’t be coming on for another 10 or 15 minutes, the pair started hollering for air conditioning.


The couple hundred fans -- a mix of middle-age rock memorabilists lugging framed posters and tight-jeans teenage couples with their hair firmly poofed into place -- filled the floor at Tower’s Sunset Strip store Friday night.

Crowded in a space recently vacated by stacks of blues CDs and facing a temporary stage built in front of the magazine rack, they’d all bought copies of the Dolls’ new album, “One Day It Will Please Us to Remember Even This,” at the store that week. The purchase earned them one pink wristband, guaranteeing entrance to this free, brief and moist performance.

“One Day” is the Dolls’ first studio album in 32 years.

Before its initial incarnation flamed out with bad habits and a misguided pro-communism shtick, the group released two albums in the early ‘70s that didn’t sell well initially but went on to influence countless punk bands in both sound and philosophy.


Given modern music’s debt to them, the Dolls are a peculiar type of reunion act -- one that can draw audiences much larger these days than they could the first time around.

The band performing now is quite different from the quintet on the cover of the Dolls’ 1973 self-titled debut. In the classic photograph, they look like a group of hard-luck drag queens arranged in ascending order of which one you’d be most willing to spend the night with. The two dime pieces on the right -- guitarist Johnny Thunders and drummer Jerry Nolan -- died in the early ‘90s, and the ever mannish bass player Arthur Kane on the far left passed away from leukemia shortly after the group reunited in 2004.

That leaves lead singer David Johansen (still frighteningly skinny and snuggly crammed into his pants) and giddy guitarist Syl Sylvain as the only original members.

When the Dolls finally took the Tower stage, greeted with manic whooping and digital photo taking, they reeled off seven songs from “One Day.” Between numbers, Johansen and Sylvain easily bounced in-jokes off each other, sounding like two fellas who’ve worked behind the same Staten Island deli counter for years, fixing meatball subs and speaking in shorthand.


After closing out with their goofy new single, “Dance Like a Monkey,” the band members began to step away from their instruments and a momentary panic hit the crowd -- were they really not going to play any old songs? But the arm linking for a group bow slid into a brief band huddle and then they returned for trademarks “Looking for a Kiss” and “Personality Crisis,” capturing the delicious sleaze of when the songs were first recorded.

When the fluorescent lights came back on, the crowd was ushered outside to line up for an autograph session.

As a parade of promotional fliers and worn-out album sleeves was graced with Sharpie signatures, Sylvain looked at a copy of “From Paris With Love (L.U.V.),” one of the many unauthorized live recordings of the band that have been released over the years.

“This is another record we don’t get paid for,” Sylvain said to the young fan who had brought it. Johansen fixed his primate gaze on the guy, placed his hands on his shoulders, gave him a quick shake and coughed out a “Why I oughta ...” chuckle.