Show Review (The Wiltern, Los Angeles)

    Seeing artists who are well past their prime may only be slightly more risky than seeing your average relevant band. Youth can add energy and fresh enthusiasm to a performance, but the fact that the older artists are still around implies that at the very least their music has a timeless component. Say what you want about the Stones’ recorded output over the last thirty years, but when the members get on stage, they still fucking rock. The Kinks can stand up next to the Stones in a catalog duel any day, and lead singer/songwriter Ray Davies‘s work over the years is arguably more important to modern rock ‘n’ roll. Plus, the Kinks are my favorite band, so getting the chance to see Davies live was a real treat. It went beyond the usual excuse, which is that one day you can look back on your long life, pull the grandkids over onto the porch and say, “I’ve seen Ray Davies live.”




    Unfortunately, the reality didn’t quite meet the expectations. Though Davies had enormous energy at his July 16 show in Los Angeles, too many pieces fell out of place for the night to be anything but a disappointment. Many of the problems were typical of older rock stars evolving their stage show, most notably the poorly and unnecessarily updated versions of his songs. Most grievous was the awkward rockification of “20th Century Man,” which made a great song into a mid-level-rocking bore. Plus, like all solo artists, Davies picked a safe and professional backing band that was simply too good to play the songs with the necessary messy energy. Fortunately, he and the band stuck to the script for most of his earlier work, such as the legendary “You Really Got Me,” “Tired of Waiting” and, one of my personal favorites, “Set Me Free.” Because these songs were so crude, it was nearly impossible for the band to screw it up — or, rather, unscrew it up.


    Though he was clearly enjoying himself, Davies nevertheless displayed a mild contempt for his earlier work. That’s understandable considering the length of his career, but it also made the evening a little sad, especially considering how mildly his new material went over. But by the end of a set that included no songs from his two greatest records, 1968’s Village Green Preservation Society and 1969’s Arthur, a set in which he also ignored “Waterloo Sunset,” his best song, and “Lola,” his most popular, there were still a few real gems. His acoustic performance of the beautiful “Oklahoma, U.S.A.” was perfect, and “A Long Way From Home,” one of the highlights of 1970’s Lola Vs. Powerman and the Moneygoround, became one of the highlights of the evening. Even after all of the disappointments, those two songs made it worth everything, and those two songs are the ones that make concerts like this more than empty nostalgia.


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