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A VINTAGE DOLL TAKES IT DOWNTOWN

davidjoThe man with one of the biggest voices, mouths and hearts in all of music — David Johansen — is the special guest ringmaster as MAD Wednesdays continue at the Downtown.

By TOM CHESEK

It was a dark and stormy night the first time that David Johansen hit the streets of Red Bank for a gig. With a cancelled outdoor set at one of those Jazz and Blues Festivals — the kind that always seemed to get called on account of rain, sleet or fog —  the glam-punk pioneer turned roots-music raconteur found himself with time on his hands, a willing coterie of famous friends, and no place to play.

Ask anyone who happened to be there that night, whether in the room or pressed up against the windows in the rain, and they’ll tell you about the night that David Jo and an all-star crew of music legends — among them the Band’s Levon Helm and Howlin’ Wolf guitarist Hubert Sumlin — made their way up Wharf Avenue from Marine Park and commandeered the now-defunct Olde Union House restaurant for an impromptu jam that got about two songs deep, before the borough FD busted in and unceremoniously de-funked the premises.

“Whaddaya gonna do,” shrugged the man who once famously proclaimed that “rock stars never dress for the weather,” as he hustled his skinny frame into his girlfriend’s car. “That’s the big-time music biz for ya.”

This Wednesday, the veteran vocalist of the New York Dolls — a guy who once flirted with household-name fame via his alter ego Buster Poindexter — returns to the banks of the Navesink for his first proper solo show in Red Bank: up the hill, around the corner and under the roof of the doublewide Downtown on West Front.

Scheduled as the latest in an increasingly ambitious series of Music, Art and Drafts (M.A.D.) Wednesdays co-produced by Anthony Jude Setaro, the show marks Johansen’s first Red Bank appearance since taking part in a satisfying (albeit sparsely attended) Songwriters in the Round presentation at the Count Basie Theatre in 2009. By that point, Johansen and his sole fellow surviving Doll Syl Sylvain had returned to the road, touring behind the first New York Dolls recordings in some 35 years. Johansen’s solo sets, always a grab-bag of playful surprises amid the bombast, began to morph into something that reconciled the classic-rock frontman with the record-hound musicologist.

From long-gone local clubs like the Fountain Casino, the Royal Manor and the Fast Lane — where The Boss was known to jump onstage and jam on tunes like “Pills” and “Wreckless Crazy” — Johansen has taken his scaled-back, singer-plus-guitarist format to such intimate and appreciative settings as the Brighton Bar in Long Branch. His two recent “Evening With” appearances at the Brighton were coordinated with Keith Roth, glam-rock airwaves authority (co-host of WRAT FM‘s Electric Ballroom), retro record label mogul (Main Man Records) and a man whose frequent tribute shows at area nightspots are a rocking Rolodex of 1970’s legends, New Wave royalty and budding young local talents like Red Bank’s own Ribeye Brothers.

Roth will also be taking part in Wednesday’s wingding (for which admission is a one-night-only $20), out front of his own lovingly retro-rocking band Frankenstein 3000 — and opening will be the fearsome red boots and brass-cupcake stylings of Tara Elliott and the Red Velvets.

Remember: Nothing makes a Red Bank friend happier than to hear "I saw you on Red Bank Green!"
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