MUSIC  NEWS

RALPH STANLEY VS. NEW YORK DOLLS
Monday April 20, 2008
Granada Theater, Dallas, Texas

In the history of Dallas, only one other double bill competes with this one for unbelievability, irony, and debate fodder. Not since Oswald and Kennedy hit downtown Big D in November '63 have we seen such an interesting pairing of leading contenders. At 5pm, the doors opened, and in streamed a bunch of well dressed, and well mannered folk for a performance by bluegrass master Ralph Stanley, whose unexpected resurgence with "Oh Death" from the O' Brother Where Art Thou soundtrack (thanks to visionary T Bone Burnett) put both him and the bluegrass genre back square on the hip map. At 9pm the doors opened again for the New York Dolls, themselves in the midst of a comeback, and in streamed about three generations of punk and glam rockers, some of who I have been seeing at Dallas punk gigs since the mid 70's. When I first saw the ads for these two gigs, same day, same place, I knew I would be at both. How could you choose between the two?

Let's start with Ralph. He stood between six other men, all well dressed in suits and cowboy hats. Ralph stood like a deacon, hands folded, deep in respect of his audience and fellow performers. For one night, Dallas had an Opry, which I gather is far better than an Oprah, now having seen examples of both. For about an hour, Mr. Stanley loosely held court, giving each bandmember their turn in the spotlight to sing or solo. It was sportsmanship at its finest. The music was obviously top notch, and near the end, Ralph played some pretty mean banjo, one with his portrait painted on the backside, no less. In addition to world class musicianship, Mr. Stanley also proved to be a smartass more than once. But what i kept noticing was his bolo tie. It seemed to be a long stream of small diamonds, glistening in the spotlight, the center of attention even from the back of the hall where I sat. After the show I told him it was the best bolo tie I had ever seen. He seemed very pleased, and his hands were still folded. What an honor to have even a few words with such a revered dignitary. He had just made himself available at the merchandise table to meet his fans and sign CDs and photographs. How could you not want to meet Ralph Stanley? Don't worry, he's in his 80's and plays Dallas about every 20 years, you've got plenty of time.

And now for these New York Dolls. Where do I begin? In 1974. Their first album had just come out, and they were being mentioned in every issue of CREEM magazine, as if America suddenly had its own Rolling Stones to kick around. Their first album cover, to this day, remains an all time favorite of mine, and I will go to my grave believing that in the mid 70's, Johnny Thunders had the best hair in rock and roll, Jimmy Page running a close second. I always wished I could have Johnny Thunders' hairdon't. It would look terrible on me, but that doesn't stop me from wanting it, and never will. You can't put your hairspray around a memory, darling.

So the Dolls came on late, about 11:30. I was perched in the balcony with my camcorder aimed. Finally the curtain rose and there they were, my beloved Dolls, at long long last. I had wanted to see them since 1974, when I was too young to get into their first appearance at a night club called Gerdie's. Without having heard the album, I knew I wanted to be at that gig, to see something different, to see the guy with the big hair. But I didn't have a car, or an older friend willing to sneak me in. So I cleverly hatched a plan to stay alive 34 more years until 2008, when they would return to Dallas.

My wait was not in vain. They hit the stage with all the swagger of jaded giants, but also had the casual stance of a local band. I had been expecting some sort of grownup, polished Behind The Music version of the Dolls. Thankfully, it was not to be. Even with just 2 out of 5 original members (Johansen and Sylvain), the 2008 Dolls seemed just as lost and in command as the 70's version. They were still raunchy and nasty, like a greasy diner you don't tell your friends about. You just sneak off and go get your fix.

They played for about an hour and a half, and thank god I filmed most of it, including my favorite, "Trash." Just as good as the old classics are, some of the new songs are just as good, especially "We're All In Love." There's a lot of cynicism around about this new '2/5ths' lineup, and the new CD. Forget all that, if you like the Dolls. Just buy the new album and hope they don't wait 34 more years to come back.

Unlike most of the bands that play the Granada, the Dolls did not stick around to sign merchandise or meet the fans by the backstage door. They slid out the front door, leaving no message for the 50 faithful who waited past 2am for a glimpse of their heroes. Finally, out stumbled Sylvain Sylvain, very fucked up, and very happy to see us waiting. He signed a few autographs, muttered, "Where the hell am I? I need a cab..." and stumbled to the front of the building. I got him to sign a piece of paper, the same one signed by Ralph Stanley a few hours earlier. I hit the bed around 3am, as tired and happy as I've ever been. And that's rock and roll at its finest and most demanding. I remain a servant to its' lost, luxurious cause.

Bucks Burnett
April 21, 2008



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