Sunday, December 18, 2016

Ray Davies Live In Detroit


                                           Ray Davies

                                        Solo In Detroit

It’s been a few years since we met, old friend. It was 1979 at Cobo Hall. You had just released Low Budget, your American album. And suddenly you were quite popular again and you found yourself playing arenas with a new muscular sound. Dave still played glorious yet precise heavy metal solos, not as sloppy as in the past, none of you were. You had a new haircut, short and athletic. You seemed trim and just a bit hyper, but so remote, not like in the past, back in ’70 at the Eastown when you revealed your whimsical and self-deprecating nature with that almost pastoral British charm. Hell, back then you could getaway with Harry Rag or Big Sky and just floor the audience with those incredible images. And you were so good at poking fun at yourself, your brother Dave, and the Kinks. But in ’79 you were a rock star in an arena band; imagine the KINKS…an arena band. It seemed that the Kinks got better, more proficient. But …damn, I missed the sloppiness and your irreverent British point-of-view. It was all to calculated, so serious. Something gained, something lost. I never thought it could ever return. In the nineties, your days were numbered and you seemed to retreat into your cocoon just as Dave got busy with an odd and delightful solo career.

 I missed his show a few years back at The Magic Bag in Detroit, not for any lack of trying, as soon as I heard about the Dave Davies Show I dialed up my friend Willie Wilson from WDET to get some special accommodation, i.e. tickets and Willie said he’d get me tickets but Dave’s show was yesterday and that I just missed it and that he drove Dave in from the Metro Airport and Dave was cool not as prickly as legend would have it. The Kinks are notorious, can’t remember any Michigan rockers from the sixties or seventies that had a good word to say about you guys, maybe it was just the times and maybe our remembrances have a plasticity that cushion our own shame at someone else’s expense, someone more famous and unable to defend himself. And maybe you were just a drunken roustabout. Well, I was a drunken man way back then, it doesn’t matter anymore because I’ve made peace with myself and I’ve come to terms with Ray Davies, the Kinks and fandom itself and judging from this performance I think he has found something too, like home and peace. I saw the Kinks six or seven times between 1970 and 1979 and though the Kinks group changed personnel several times during that era, I never saw him play without his brother. I know he misses him; I miss him too. I hope he’s OK. I heard he suffered a stroke a few years ago.

Davies opened the show with an indefatigable and irreverent version of Low Budget, his paean to American consumerism. Looking fit and trim, Davies inexplicably - as it was something like 90 degrees outside - wore a brown wool jacket over his shirt. He was sweating just a bit and dancing around like some deranged middle-aged dandy or a Kink or something and after a couple of songs he really got down to business removed his jacket and rolled up his sleeves. This cat is serious. He was here to rock and roll us - and to reveal a little bit more than just his songs. In fact, Davies said, “To understand my songs, you have to understand me”. So, True. Davies could have sung all night and most of the next day and still covered only a portion of his extensive catalog. Tonight, he included Where Have All the Good Times Gone, You Really Got Me, All Day and All of the Night, an incredible extended version of 20th Century Man (with some great slide licks from Mark Johns), and Tired of Waiting, the Punks favorite along with Till the End of the Day which he also performed.

Davies also played a few tunes that were never or rarely played in public including Dead End Street (an obscure Dickensian ode to class inequality) from 1967 that he turned into a playful call and response scat and go exercise and A Long Way from Home from 1970’s Lola vs Powerman and the Money-Go-Round. Davies said it was written for his brother Dave and it was about coping with the pressures of sudden fame. Davies narrated his performance with incredible anecdotes about Dave asking “What the Fuck is that”? after he first heard the riff to You Really Got Me; auditioning for record executives who hated their music, dismissing Dave’s guitar work as sounding like dogs barking. Davies remarked, “I thought that was a good thing”. A sound was born and the Kinks were part of that early vanguard but they changed and Davies brief solo acoustic set with Sunny Afternoon and Well Respected Man illustrated the changes, with satirical lyrics and universal themes that nonetheless poke fun at the writer himself, overall a good vibe with just a hint of regret. I was most interested in his new material from his first solo record, Other People’s Lives. I bought it and loved its quiet majesty. Don’t get me wrong, Davies still rocked on the record but it was a return to the more pastoral musings of Village Green Preservation Society, Big Sky, Autumn Almanac, and Waterloo Sunset (Davies’ masterpiece). He played several of the new songs including After the Fall, an older tune originally meant for the Kinks; the funky Tourist, about his life in New Orleans. In introducing Over My Head, a tune that begs the question “Is life Good to You?”  Davies revealed that it’s about acceptance and putting your life in perspective that it reflects upon his own life; a life like so many others - both comic and tragic. The Getaway is a moody gem inspired by Leadbelly and Davies skiffle days. Before performing Next Door Neighbor he asked to no one or everyone, “Do you want to be my friend?”; he repeated the question and then said, “Let’s go out and you can have a few drinks with me and then you’ll see how it works.” That aside Davies possessed a self-deprecating charm, oddly endearing and so loveable. He took performance art to a deeper level – especially for rock n’ roll – and simply and exquisitely charmed the pants off the crowd. He closed the 90-minute set with Lola, a classic song that he could never sing, seems he wrote it out of his range. Where’s brother Dave when you need him? Still, Davies proved he is a master, a songwriting genius that has grown comfortable with the stage. This was an inspired performance that was strangely reassuring. Maybe I’m not obsolete after all. I left the Taste Fest feeling renewed and enlivened. My wife Lisa and I hailed a cab and returned to our room at The Hilton Inn on Gratiot Avenue, laughing and goofing around.  It was a good night GOD SAVE THE KINKS. I arose early the next morning, a good hour or so before Lisa. I showered and then brewed some of that complimentary individually packaged coffee that tastes bad but turns the lights on, so I drink it anyway and I get fired up and I decide to take a stroll down Gratiot over to Ford Field and Comerica Park. I’d never seen these stadiums, homes to the Detroit Tigers and Detroit Lions. The terrible over-the-top opulence stunned me, steel and concrete monuments to our cultural constipation and diversion as a way of life. I shivered at those lavish modern pyramids and wondered what future generations would think of us. I was alone on Gratiot as I turned toward the Fox Theatre. There were only a few random people around the corner, some shirtless, some with shoes but no socks; one missing a few teeth. As I walked back toward the Hilton, I noticed a young man with his head in his hands, sitting on the church steps, oblivious to my passing eye. I imagined that something happened to him and I wondered if I should say something but I didn’t bother. I was afraid for some reason but I shook off those awful thoughts like a cold chill and continued walking. After awhile I started to feel invigorated by the morning sun and felt the quiet pulse of the city begin to pick up before the hustle and bustle returned to the streets. I went back to my hotel room and told my wife about all these things. She smiled and kissed me softly. It was time to go home.

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