After 41 years in the music business, David Johansen has reached a place where he is so comfortable in his own skin, in his songs, in his ability to communicate, he can keep his efforts minimal but concentrated ,and with a magical ease, floor an audience. With former Harry Smith Brian Koonin accompanying David on guitar and cymbals, David used handclaps, finger snaps, whistling and a terrific harmonica, to take us through the various stages of his career.
As recent as the still not recorded mid-set "From Death To Death" and as early as the penultimate "Looking For A Kiss", David transversed his career (except for Buster Poindexter -cmon, throw in "Hot Hot Hot") with a stop in Norway to celebrate his deepest roots. It was a fun, perfectly orchestrated trip, as timeless as the Harry Smiths songs, and as modern as the Dolls Mach 2, David had the ease of a raconteur and a pop elder statesmen.
It felt so off the cuff, it reminded me of Jerry Lee Lewis, when he'd play entire sets by having the audience call out songs. But it wasn't. This is, more or less (no "Frenchette"!) the set he has been playing for years. The opening "Funky But Chic" , "Melody" and "Boom Boom" are set in stone and displays both his vocal prowess, David has a somewhat stunning throaty growl, and his musical acumen, -he plays a mean harp solo on the John Lee Hooker song.
It feels all of a piece but it isn't. Johansen goes from (in!) style to style, and he crafts them to his own skills. Old blues, glamy hard rock, punk:rock ballads - they were pieces in a puzzle, like small gems in a larger, more luminous jewel, building a whole. To return to the first four songs again
Two solo faves
A blues cover
A song off the 2009 Dolls Mach 2, album 2
How can he fit it together like that.? Especially with only Brian as a foil? David has been running variations on this set for years now and he knows where to go, how to make it flow. When to bring out the big guns, a raucous cover of "Rocket 88" with only foot stomps and cymbals to make it move, and when to settle down and really nail a tough song, A breathtaking "Richland Woman Blues"(the Mississippi John Hurt classic blues song) is given everything Johansen has and Brian, who has been wonderful back up all night long, all but bursts with the joy of finger picking.
I interviewed Johansen back in the day and liked him then and I liked him on stage. David's stage conversation was like having lunch with somebody you don't know all that well, but who is really interesting. He has a million great stories but you only get the handful there is the time for. Dave tells of birthdays in Norway, Todd Rundgren's Hawaii home ("a Cambodian druglords bogota") and just how far Buddhism will get you.
David looks in great shape, even if his face a little wrinkled. At the Rolling Stone tribute at Carnegie Hall earlier this year, he was the only artist to channel Jagger, on stage he still looks like Jagger. At 62 years old, Johansen is slim, athletic, craggily and handsome. A pleasure to watch as always. I mean always,. I've seen him many times but not in a decade, and he has never not given a professional but yielding performance.
Saturday night was all of that and more. A reminder of just how much great music David has originated and covered, of how many bands he has played with and how he shines brightly without forcing the full beam on himself.
So many of David's contemporaries are gone now: Johnny Thunders, Arthur Kane, Malcolm McLaren, but Johansen is still here and still a rock and roll star. He makes it look easy.