Dec 032010

By Pete Thomson.

Motorhead. I only know three of their songs, but I do have a big soft spot for Lemmy Kilmister. When he was kicked out of Hawkwind in 1975 for ‘doing the wrong drugs,’ he formed Motörhead and never looked back. It’s more than 20 years since they were in town and when I hear they’re due to play the relatively cosy Music Hall, I just have to get tickets.

Due to “unprecedented demand,” however, the gig is moved to the infamous AECC. The prospect of an evening in that miserable, miles-from-nowhere hellhole holds considerably less allure but neither Lemmy nor I are in the first flush of youth and I might never get another chance to see him. Not in this world, anyway.

Ms. Ashby and I battle through gale-force winds on the night, stumbling into the AECC minutes before the band comes on. As we enter the arena, a few faces from the golden age of Radars drift by. For a moment the years seem to melt away, but there’s no Rosie behind the bar and beneath the varying degrees of intoxication obvious in my erstwhile drinking buddies there’s a discomforting but undeniable air of decrepitude. None of us is getting any younger.

Motörhead shortly hit the boards to deafening acclaim and launch into being, well, Motörhead. With Lemmy growling famously away beneath his customised cowboy hat, Phil Campbell throws a few guitar heroics while, high over the stage, Mikkey Dee thrashes madly at his kit for all the world like Animal from The Muppets. Nothing new there, then: cacophonous, no-frills rock and roll that sends the moshers about their somewhat less than solemn business of going loopy. Let’s face it, though, your average Motörhead fan is happy as a pig amongst the proverbial as long as they hear Ace Of Spades at some point and everything else at 150 decibels. Fair play to that.

she’s unusually pale beneath the sonic onslaught

But I’m not your average fan. Apart from the light show being downright ordinary, the sound is terrible and it’s dawning on me pretty damn quick why I stopped listening to this kind of stuff 30-odd years ago.

Yes, I can see why their music has been called “a beacon of defiant celebration,” and I do love the punk ethic that underpins everything Motörhead stands for; it’s just that after three numbers, they haven’t got an awful lot left to offer.

Ms. Ashby observes that maybe Motörhead is ‘a male thing’. Here against her better judgement, she’s unusually pale beneath the sonic onslaught but correct. Between hordes of headbangers having a ball and the hundreds of vaguely disappointed punters shuffling around uneasily at the back, there are very few women. Seven songs in, it’s time to go. We leave them to it.

It’s all been a bit of a let down; but that’s the trouble with legends, at least those with whom we’re largely unacquainted. Go see any revered artist without the emotional resonance that comes from hearing them at our most pivotal moments and we’re reduced to little more than interested spectators. Sometimes that works but it can be a recipe for disaster.

I remember how not even the warm intimacy of the Music Hall could save country giant Willie Nelson from being well past his sell-by date. Without that cushion of sentimentality, I saw not the wonderful show I’d hoped for but a tired old man going through the motions. The old trouper’s voice was shot, the show cloyingly contrived. But the majority of the crowd couldn’t care less. They loved him. Like Lemmy, he soldiers on regardless. Somehow, that’s exactly how it should be. Who wants to live forever, anyway?

Sep 172010

Pete Thomson reviews the recent New York Dolls concert at The Lemon Tree in Aberdeen. Photography by Dod Morrison.

It’s been a long, hard road from Lexington Avenue to West North Street but, nearly 40 years since they burst out of Manhattan under the stewardship of one Malcolm Maclaren Esq., the New York Dolls hit the Lemon Tree.

Maclaren’s first project after he was kicked out of art school, the band’s taste for the high life took a heavy toll.

Only David Johansen and Sylvain Sylvain survive the original line-up, and although they’re no longer the mascara’d drag queens of yore, it would be dangerous to expect anything less than the dirty, streetwise rock and roll with which they made their name. And so it proves.

They kick off with Looking For A Kiss and Dolls fans rock from the start; for curious onlookers like yours truly, unfamiliar with the bulk of the band’s material, the conversion takes a little longer. We’re three numbers in before a smiling Johansen whips out a mouth organ and leads the crowd in a rousing chorus of We’re All In Love. The ice is broken.

Dolls gigs are all about having a good time. One thing they don’t do is take themselves too seriously. Where Sylvain yelps and cajoles with irreverent asides, Johansen grins and pouts good-naturedly. The latter’s showmanship is the glue that holds everything together, but even if you don’t love rock and roll it’s hard to resist the Dolls’ chaotic charm.

crazed backing vocals recall 60’s girl groups, while Bo Diddley’s sinuous rhythms pop up everywhere

Johansen shows off the rich blues credentials underlying his street punk bravura In Private World, but this is not just a few oldies flogging a dead horse to cover the rent. The freshness of Nobody Got No Bizness – from last year’s ‘Cause I Sez So collection – proves the Dolls aren’t quite ready for the nostalgia circuit yet.

Sylvain reminds us what a fine guitarist he is in Stranded In The Jungle but, while second guitar Steve Conte is absent tonight, his replacement, Blondie’s Frank Infante, is no slouch either and trades fiery licks with Sylvain throughout.

Speaking of guitarists, Sylvain opens a ballad with a few bars of Johnny Thunder’s You Can’t Put Your Arms Round A Memory, the late Doll’s prophetic elegy evoking the darker side of the band’s history.

The Dolls music, however, draws on glorious traditions. Often crazed backing vocals recall 60’s girl groups, while Bo Diddley’s sinuous rhythms pop up everywhere. One frantic medley climaxes with a thundering rendition of the great man’s much-covered Who Do You Love, while no Dolls set would be complete without Pills, Diddley’s barnstorming anthem to the seamier side of rock and roll.

There’s no let-up and the boys race through a skanky Trash as Sylvain whips the crowd ever higher: “We’re all in this together, “he screams. He’s not joking either. The temperature is rising and it seems like we’re just getting going when a rambunctious, metallic Jet Boy brings proceedings to a halt. There’s one delirious encore of Personality Crisis, the near-capacity crowd so high nobody’s giving a hoot just how loose things get. But shambolic or not, the set has been a triumph. Johansen and crew wander off wreathed in smiles, reputations and legend fully intact.