Report: Ray Davies Plays Kinks in S.F.

 

With
the hopes of a full-blown Kinks reunion fading, Ray Davies, backed by L.A. combo the 88, play
red-blooded versions of Kinks Klassics at the Fillmore on July 19.

By Jud Cost

I swore to myself that, for once, I’d just go to the Fillmore, soak it all in
and have a good time. And that I did, but the journalist inside me wouldn’t
stop thinking of things to say about this glorious performance by Ray Davies,
whose songwriting genius has gathered enough steam by now to pull into a
virtual dead-heat with Lennon & McCartney.

The last time through town, in 2009, Davies had converted a houseful of skeptical devotees who weren’t too sure how Kinks songs
would stack up, backed by a large choral group instead of a blistering rock
band. With Davies’ astute choice of material (including sensitive numbers like
“Days,” “See My Friends” and “Waterloo Sunset”)
it was one of the most enjoyable nights of the year, the modern equivalent of a
night at the opera.

With the Kinks’ fabled singer/songwriter fronting simpatico Los Angeles combo
the 88, the show tonight sounded like a slam-dunk, maybe as close as we’re
likely to ever get to a reformation of the original Muswell Hill quartet that
also featured Ray’s brother Dave Davies on guitar (still recovering from a
stroke), their late bassist Pete Quaife and drummer Mick Avory. It was even
superb tonight in ways you never would have anticipated.

The first eight songs, six of them Kinks nuggets, were performed by Ray Davies
and his longtime accompanist, Bill Shanley, both on beefed-up acoustic guitars.
The surprise element was the crowd, in magnificent voice, chiming-in at all the
right places. Who the hell could have ever seen this coming? That enough people
knew the arrangement of “Dead
End Street” to add the “hey hey”
accent line at just the right moments (and volume). It almost felt like they’d
rehearsed their part.

The set began with “I Need You,” a terrific, flag-waver that slipped
through the cracks of the Kinks’ repertoire in their early years. It has all
the buzzsaw energy of their first two U.S. hits, “You Really Got
Me” and “All Day And All Of The Night,” with none of the
notoriety. 

“I never would have thought I’d be playing the Fillmore again,”
Davies reminisced, even though the Kinks never actually worked the venerated
hall, abandoned by Bill Graham in 1968 for the larger Carousel ballroom,
renamed the Fillmore West. As Davies noted, the Kinks were banned from playing America for
four years. When they finally returned to the U.S. in 1969 to tour for their Village
Green Preservation Societ
y LP, it was the Fillmore West where they first
played locally.

After a brief nod to longtime San
Francisco pals Mike and Trish Daly, Davies announced,
“This is where I belong.” And, of course, burst into the song of the
same name, another obscure single the crowd knew like the back of its
collective hand. “Dedicated Follower Of Fashion” with its “when
he pulls his frilly nylon panties right up tight” line titillating the
crowd, as always, was a rousing hit. The massed voices were right there again
to chime in on “telling’ tales of drunkenness and cruelty” on major
Kinks smash “Sunny Afternoon.”

“Apeman,” from 1970’s overlooked masterpiece Lola Vs. Powerman And The
Moneygoround
, cleared up one point, once and for all. When the song became
a turntable hit on S.F.’s KSAN-fm, they played a dubbed version that went,
“I look out the window but can’t see the skies/the air pollution is
a-foggin’ up my eyes” to placate the FCC. Davies made it loud and clear
tonight that the air pollution was no less than “a-fuckin’ up” his
eyes.

And that was just for openers. The 88 wandered onstage during “Dead End
Street” and helped Davies rip through “Till The End Of The Day,”
the third (and possibly best) retooling of “You Really Got Me.”
Surprisingly, the mob really got into “Where Have All The Good Times
Gone” from their third U.K.
longplayer, The Kink Kontroversy. I once mentioned to Davies, during one
of our four interviews over the past 20 years, that “I’m Not Like
Everybody Else” might serve as a proper epitaph for his tombstone. It was
the only awkward moment we’ve ever had. Great tune, nevertheless, whether
carved in marble or lighting up a musty old dance hall.

During a more recent chat with Davies, I asked him to consider singing my
favorite verse of “Celluloid Heroes,” (“If you covered him with
garbage, George Sanders would still have style/And if you stamped on Mickey
Rooney, he’d still turn ’round and smile”) and he said he would. But not
yet. He did, however, rescue the Marilyn Monroe line and swap it out for the
one with Bette Davis in a previous verse. By the way, one astute Kinks fan
nearby identified an instrumental break, played by the 88 without Davies, as
the backing track for “Celluloid Heroes.” Nice catch. 

“Victoria,”
a highlight of the Kinks’ Arthur album, was good enough to lead off the
stellar 1972 best-of compendium, The Kink Kronikles, curated and
annotated by noted rock scribe John Mendelsohn. “20th Century Man”
ratcheted the theme of “I’m Not Like Everybody Else” to the breaking
point. “This is the age of machinery, mechanical nightmare/The wonderful
world of technology: napalm, hydrogen bomb, biological warfare.” Davies’
bottom line was, “I’m a 20th century man, but I don’t want to be
here.” And things haven’t changed much well into the 21st century with its
morning headlines spilling out the abhorrent pedophilia of Penn St. football coach Jerry Sandusky
and the recent mass murders at a Colorado
cinema showing a Batman movie.

Revived by its double-barreled shotgun blast, “You Really Got Me” and
“All Day And All Of The Night” should have sent everyone packing into
the damp San Fran fog with a warm glow. Since I had a train to catch to Seattle the next day, it
did for me. Apparently, I missed the encore, a song that (along with Tony
Bennett’s “I Left My Heart”) should be made San Francisco’s municipal anthem:
“Lola.”

The thing that will keep people coming back to hear this same perfectly-forged
lineup is the Kinks’ marvelously fertile back catalog, accurately sung by the
man who penned the stuff. Davies could have played 25 completely different
songs tonight, and the show would have been every bit as exciting. Name another
artist, short of Paul McCartney, who could pull that one off.

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