Ray Davies - Berklee Performance Center (Boston, MA) - Tuesday, November 17, 2009
Of the widely recognized 'top tier' British Invasion bands, I'd reckon that The Kinks would consistently fail to podium, when compared to The Beatles, The Rolling Stones and The Who. Of course, coming up fourth against combos of that nature is nothing to hang your head over, and one could make a credible argument that when at the top of his game, Ray Davies was the strongest songwriter of the bunch. Ray's not shy about celebrating his body of work, and once again was on the road for a short tour to promote a new record which features choral arrangements of Kinks' classics. Logistics prohibited the Boston-area appearance to showcase the chorus, so instead we got a grand evening of entertainment broken into two parts; first an eight or nine song acoustic set, with Ray joined by County Cork man Bill Shanley, and then a full electric band came out and played another dozen or so cherished songs from the very deep Kinks songbook.
The last time I saw Ray was in 2006, and there some overlap in the songs; clearly with such a pool to draw from, no Kinks fan will ever be fully satisfied with the complete song selections, but that's really minor quibbling in the grand scheme of things when the concert is over. Chestnuts like arena rocker "Low Budget" and arena ballad "Come Dancing" were comfortably nestled against the Hollywood paean "Celluloid Heroes" and "Moments," a song off the Percy soundtrack which Ray claimed was only the second time he's ever played it. Ray's fairly pioneered the whole 'storyteller' movement (cf. his 1998 album and the VH1 series where he was the first guest) , where he spends some time between songs to talk about the inspiration or just some anecdotes about the circumstances surrounding it and with "Morphine Song" Ray gave some background pertaining to his 2004 shooting incident which left him with a hole in his leg, a stay at a local hospital, and some new insight into the state of US health care. The characters of Nelson and Starr, orderlies attending to Ray's needs, provided fodder for the song's basis.
For the second time in a row, Ray's (maddeningly) deleted the crucial bridge of "20th Century Man," the part about being born in a welfare state. To me it's not only melodically the best part of the song, but excising those lyrics makes the song's meaning different as well. Not sure what's up with that editing decision. It's clear that Ray still has more than a bit of the stadium performer left in him, as his constant exhortations for audience participation (whether by hand clapped syncopation or off-key chorus singing) helped to fill some of the space inherent in the duo format. That said, at the end of the day it's his songs which put people in the seats, and stunning versions of "Victoria" and the truly sublime "Waterloo Sunset" (for me, its presence made up for the lack of any Village Green material) was a frank display of talent.
Opener and local singer/songwriter Dennis Brennan played a solo set that was heavily influenced sonically by Dylan and Costello, and sartorially by Waits.
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