Butterflyin’ - New York Dolls (Easy Action)

butterflyinRiddle me this, Batman: In these digital times, why put out a CD of a live recording in a box set and split it over two discs? A strange attempt to mimick the vinyl exprience of flipping an LP over after it hits the run-out groove? Yes, Barflies, these are some of the weighty societal issues we trouble ourselves with at the I-94 Bar. Let’s back the truck up a bit here…

“Butterflyin’” is an upgraded version of a Dolls boot that’s been doing the rounds since Steve Jones was old enough to do time in an adult detention facility. Not that he’s the only one who swiped something from the Dolls’ output. It’s taken from a 1974 WLIR radio broadcast. An additional six live tracks, from another undated radio show, are the icing on the cake. More about them later. 

Apart from vinyl, this gig appeared on Castle’s three-disc “From Here To Eternity” box set. It’s now on one CD and sounds substantially brighter than the prvious edition. It’s also technically not a boot any more, with royalties flowing to the band’s publishers.

The first thing to say is that all New York Dolls bootlegs are not equal. This one was fair-to-middling in the audio quality stakes, better than average on performance. It’s probably on a par with the “Live in Detroit” boot on both counts, and superior to “Live In Paris”. The song selection is much better than “Red Patent Leather”.

“Butterflyin’” find the Dolls if not at the absolute peak of their powers, then very close. Their second album was in the shops. They were doing some serious touring. As Nina Antonia's notes say, it was a last throw of the dice and things weren't sweetness and light within the band, but they had fair prospects and reasons to be optimsitic.  

Arthur had managed to survive his girlfriend Connie’s DIY attempts at hand surgery, if alcoholism. Syl is the guitar glue. Jerry is right on the money, the drummer’s drummer. Johnny is focussed and blaring. Smack was not yet running anyone’s show.

Johansen was (and is) a force of nature, overflowing with sass and style, although there’s minimal smart-arse patter in evidence here. He’s working hard and doing the business. The band had not stepped off the edge into the abyss of decline just yet.

A David Jo promise to play “Pills” with “a reggae beat” thankfully never materialises and this blustering, but direct delivery is fine, thanks very much. Thunders’ squalling guitar is barely contained, breaking out in a ragged solo midway through. (Johansen would get his wish with “Trash” on “I See So” of course but that’s another story.)

You could live without the oddly hesitant “It’s Too Late” or the plodding “Hoochie Coochie Man”, but your miserable existence would be all the more empty if you didn’t wrap your ears around these versions of “Stranded In the Jungle” and “Personality Crisis”- or Thunders’ solo spot, “Chatterbox”, for that matter. It’s a choppy, surly take on JT's signature song. Johnny’s playing is persistently a stand-out on this show.

The Dolls being the Dolls, fittingly, "Human Being" collapses in on itself to bring down the curtain.

Non-Dolls fans can probably live without “Butterflyin’” but they probably don’t have the studio albums anyway. If you’re a completists, it’s a no-brainer and if you’re just curious, it’s not a bad place to start digging. The bonus tracks are stunning: Clear, loud and supple. Really well balanced. Of course, the usual Easy Action “rules” (great liners and packaging) apply.

four1/2

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Tags: new york punk, new york city, jerry nolan, johnny thunders, my father's place, david johansen, syl sylvain, arthur kane

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