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Little Steven Campaigns for Garage Rock in NY

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By Gelu Sulugiuc

New York (Reuters) - In the '80s, he campaigned against apartheid. On Saturday, Bruce Springsteen guitarist Little Steven furthered the cause of garage rock with a festival that featured the first U.S. performance by glam-punk pioneers The New York Dolls in more than 30 years.

Little Steven, whose real name is Steven Van Zandt, didn't have to convince the crowd at the 12-hour International Underground Garage Festival on New York City's Randall's Island that, despite scant mainstream radio play, garage rock is alive and well.

The fans danced on the muddy ground, braving an approaching rain storm, screaming in delight as New York Dolls singer David Johansen strutted and pouted across the stage, his pink nail polish matching his sleeveless shirt.

After the show, a buoyant Johansen was unable to contain his euphoria about the Dolls playing in their hometown again.

"It was dynamite, man, better than sex," he said. "It's about time I got a little exercise."

The moment was overshadowed by the absence of the band's bassist, Arthur Kane, who died on July 13 at age 55 of leukemia shortly after the reunited band played a few shows in Europe.

"He was a magical man," Johansen told Reuters. "It's sad, but we're doing what he would've wanted us to do."

Garage rock is loud and simple guitar-driven music so dear to Little Steven's heart that he produces a weekly radio show dedicated to it. At first, no one wanted to carry it, but now it plays on 136 stations in the United States.

The festival was a celebration of the genre, bringing together pioneers like The Pretty Things and The New York Dolls and current standard-bearers The Raveonettes and The Strokes.

Bands performed only two songs each with no time for sound check. A dozen go-go girls in brightly colored outfits entertained the crowd between sets.

Iggy Pop delivered the most energetic performance of the day, climbing on a stack of amplifiers to beat his chiseled bare chest like a Tarzan in low-hung blue jeans.

Blues legend Bo Diddley played his signature rectangular guitar sitting down and later rapping over a funky beat to show the young crowd that "I ain't gone yet."

"This feels like 1955 all over again," Diddley told the crowd. "God bless you and God bless rock 'n' roll."

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