David Johansen

Stage One, Fairfield Theatre Company
By Cary Doll

New York Dolls frontman David Johansen, recently performed a solo show sans Dolls, joined by fellow compadre Brian Koonin, at the intimate and wonderful performance space STAGE ONE (part of the Fairfield Theatre Company) in downtown Fairfield, Connecticut (11/5/2012).

A show sandwiched between Hurricane Sandy and Election Day, Johansen performed a full set while seated on a stool. He brought with him a full set of harmonicas which he kept in a special case. Meanwhile Brian sat close by and accompanied him on acoustic guitar, keeping the beat with drum cymbals powered by a foot pedal, and adding background vocals.

The theatre itself, while not sold out, was well-attended for a Monday night, and composed of many types of fans, just like the many genres of music he has performed through the years: some who had seen David many times, as well as one seasoned music fan, who was seeing him perform for the first time. New York’s biggest David Johansen fan – Fern, who drove all the way from Queens (NYC) to see the show in CT at a time when it was very difficult to procure gas (due to Hurricane Sandy), CT’s biggest female David Johansen fan (myself!!), and  a couple of  well-known rock musicians from the Fairfield area, who will remain nameless here, but who go back to the late 70’s NYC downtown scene, and were there as fans and friends of the performer, and  to see his performance in their ‘backyard’.

David entertained all of us, on all these levels, and threw in some surprises as well, to the delight of the audience. Early into the show David commented “Boy this is really nice to have electricity and everything”! New York City’s power was still ‘out’ in many neighborhoods due to the horrific strength and devastation of Hurricane Sandy which came through NY like the Tazmanian Devil leaving many with flooded spaces,  damage, and no electricity.  His home turf,Staten Islandwas severely affected.  Throughout the evening, some audience members shouted out comments and questions for David. One audience member shouted “who you voting for?” and he said without saying any names “Not that I’m Anti-Mormon but” and “I want to know if I’m staying or going… I think it will be OK”,  and did his best to leave it at that, on the eve before the big day.

He talked in between songs, gave us some musings and asked the audience “Do you like art songs?” referencing Rosa Ponselle, an Italian singer of operatic arias, and added, “She lived it up pretty well. I was proud of her. She would kill!!”

He performed an eclectic range of music (ranging from early Dolls, some solo album material and more recent Dolls’ recordings, along with his periods of Buster, bluesy, and Americana repertoire). There  were some unexpected covers like John Lee Hooker’s “Boom Boom” and “8 Men & 4 Women” by O.V. Wright plus a never before recorded ballad written by David and Brian, in the style of his Harry Smith’s recordings. The evening jumped back and forth from “Funky but Chic”-“Melody”- and “Big City” (early solo career) to more recent Dolls songs “I Ain’t Got Nothin’” “Maimed Happiness” (that’s a song they sing in Norway on your birthday” he said, plus “Temptation to Exist”, the latter written by Sami Yaffa, “a bad cat” he noted, with a bit of a devilish smile.

He concluded the show with an encore of several songs, in which he and Brian, stayed put onstage, rather than leave for a minute or two and return. He amusingly explained that all the time spent leaving and coming back…well, he was ‘saving up the time”, and also “borrowing some from Brian too.” Among the last few songs of the show were  a couple of Early Dolls, such as “Pills”, the Bo Diddley classic the Dolls recorded on their first album, and in which he and the audience participated in singing. Last but least was “Heart of Gold” a heart wrenching ballad  from his solo period, which made this reviewer  and many other fans very happy.