The New York Dolls, Black Joe Lewis and the Honeybears

Music Farm

Sun. June 15

Sunday proved to be a great night of rock at the Music Farm. Opening band Black Joe Lewis and The Honeybears provided the biggest surprise of the night with an effectively kick-ass set of revved-up blues and soul-rock.

The seven-piece ensemble — three in the rhythm section (in white dress shirts) at stage left and three in the horn section (in vests and neckties) at stage right with skinny singer and lead guitarist Lewis in the middle — walked onstage to a smattering of light applause around 9 p.m. A loud, accidental “Pop!” burst from the P.A. speakers, as if the system was in trouble. A half-dozen hardcore fans from the group’s hometown of Austin, Texas, knew what to expect congregated in the first row.

Touring behind their new album Tell ‘Em What Your Name Is (their Lost Highway debut), Lewis and the Honeybears tore the place up with a rapid-paced set of originals. The brassy accents from baritone sax, tenor sax, and trumpet added sparks to the fiery stuff coming out of Lewis’ small but very loud guitar amp. He sang with a peppery, shouty style, and wailed with nicely distorted tone on his solos, throwing little bits of recognizable licks from old standards at times (like Howling Wolf’s riff from “Smokestack Lightnin'”).

Half-way through their set, the front half of the Farm was full of people getting down with the gritty, soulful sounds. After a rousing closing number in which the entire band (except for the drummer) ran in place like Jake Blues at Reverend Cleophus’ Triple Rock Church, Lewis and the band earned a huge round of applause.

An even bigger crowd of New York Dolls fans gathered at the stage for the headliner’s set. Singer David Johansen and guitarist Sylvain Sylvain — the two remaining original members — looked genuinely excited to be back in Charleston again. (They headlined one of the Little Steven’s Underground Garage Rolling Rock ‘n’ Roll Show gigs at the Music Farm in 2006).

Dressed in a baby-blue shirt and styled in a scruffy Mod haircut and cool frames, Johansen was pretty funny, sauntering around the stage, casually snapping his fingers, and gesturing to the audience with every other lyrical line. “All hell is gonna break loose right here in Charleston, South Carolina tonight,” he announced at one point. His singing style still has the deep-tone holler — half speaking and half singing — as the Dolls’ early recordings. After a quick opener, they launched into the title track from their new album ‘Cause I Sez So, and carried on with a quick, non-stop set of classics (from 1973’s New York Dolls and 1974’s Too Fast Too Soon) and fresh songs.

Guitarist Steve Conte, looking a bit like Steve Stevens, took care of most of the crunchy lead guitar parts while Sylvain bounded around the stage with an oversized six-string. A solid rhythm guitarist, he clowned around, mugged for the cameras, and tossed guitar picks in the air (a la Rick Nielsen), all night.

For all the goofy fun, the Dolls maintained the same rebellious sneer and swagger that made them famous three decades ago, but pure enjoyment on stage was the main theme of the set. Highlights included a bangy version of “Lookin’ for a Kiss” (from the first album), a rowdy “Nobody Got No Bizness” (from the new album), a segue of Howlin’ Wolf’s “Spoonful” into Wilson Pickett’s “Land of 1000 Dances,” and a lengthy rendition of “Trash” (also from the first album). The Dolls’ set was brief, gracious, and full of pure rock energy. The encore of “Personality Crisis” was the perfect punctuation mark on a great night.

New York Dolls the Music Farm from Charleston City Paper on Vimeo.