Ray Davies: The Wiltern, Los Angeles, CA 7/21/12

The story of rock and roll would be incomplete without acknowledging the great bands coming out of Britain in the first half of the sixties. It was these bands that revived the music when many of the first wave of rock stars were lost to scandal (Jerry Lee Lewis, Chuck Berry), religion (Little Richard), the military (Elvis Presley) and death (Buddy Holly, Eddie Cochran). At the same time, they were doing more than just resuscitating rock and roll. Whether it was as songwriters, live performers, or recording artists, bands like the Beatles, the Rolling Stones, the Who, the Kinks, and the Animals took the music to places it had never been before, and their impact can be felt to this day.

One the key figures in those revolutionary times was Ray Davies, the chief songwriter and front-man for the Kinks, and on July 21st, he could be found onstage at the Wiltern in Los Angeles, playing a set that consisted mostly of songs by his former band. Davies tackled select gems from his vast songbook over the course of an hour and forty minutes, opening the show with a handful of barebones acoustic numbers and wrapping things up with an electric band.

Dressed in a sharp blazer and slacks, Davies took the stage at 9:40, greeted the audience with his familiar, wily grin, then strapped on his hollow-body and took a seat at a stool alongside frequent collaborator/guitar player Bill Shanley. Ironically, the duo kicked things off with “I Need You,” one of the heavy riff rockers from the Kink’s early days, but even in the acoustic format, the song still had its bite.

For the remainder of this stripped-down portion of the show, Davies mostly stuck to the Kink’s songs from the late 60s and early 70’s, a time when his songwriting was beginning to reflect his observations of British society. “Dedicated Follower of Fashion,” a humorous portrait of the superficial fashionistas of those days that were hanging around Carnaby Street, was played early on. There was “Sunny Afternoon,” with its references to the extreme taxation imposed by his country’s government, a burden so infamous that it inspired George Harrison to write “Taxman” for the Beatles and also encouraged the Rolling Stones to flee England and move to France, where they would record “Exile on Main Street.”  Perhaps the loveliest moment of the evening was “Waterloo Sunset,” a song about a picturesque sight amidst the grime of London. .

It was halfway through “Dead End Street” when Davies and Shanley were joined by the 88, the SoCal-based group who had also opened the show. The band proved to be versatile enough to take on the power chord-driven rock, the everyman ballads and the Brit-pop that the Kinks did so well. While the band and Shanley provided the musical backdrop, Davies was still the animated showman and the witty jokester of yesteryears. At 68 years of age, he showed very little wear, leaping into the air, bouncing from one end of the stage to the other, and whipping the crowd up into a frenzy and/or a sing-along on songs like “Where Have All the Good Times Gone?” or “Victoria.”

The rock anthem riffs and the train-chugging beat of “20th Century Man” came together wonderfully in a rollicking groove, while Davies and his 21st century audience sung with inspired spirit. “Celluloid Heroes,” a song that alludes to Hollywood Boulevard and the stars immortalized on its sidewalks, was one of the more poignant moments of the evening, considering that the Wiltern lies just a few miles from the song’s subject matter.

Capping off the set was “You Really Got Me,” the Kinks’ most well known song and is often recognized as an early influence on both heavy metal and punk rock. Like he had for many of the songs played on this evening, Davies shared his tale about the genesis of the tune, informing the audience that the song was originally much more bluesy. At this time, the band behind him crept in, playing the classic track in that very style, giving the crowd an idea of what could’ve been.

Davies joined in on the fun, comically singing a verse in a faux-American bluesman accent, and then just like that, the music came to an abrupt halt. There was a suspense-building moment of silence, followed by a few words about the moment his brother Dave came up with the song’s classic riff and how the song catapulted the Kinks into rock and roll history, and finally a faithful-to-the-original take of the song.

Davies returned for a generous three-song encore, consisting of a pair of late 70’s ballads, “Misfits” and “Full Moon,” and a blistering “All Day and All Night.” As if that wasn’t enough, he returned again with “Low Budget,” a humorous yet ever-so-relevant closer for these dismal economic times. Davies had given the audience a hell of a show, and judging by his sentimental reflections on the Kink’s past, he is certainly proud of the band’s legacy and loved revisiting the material. While 2012 marks 50 years of the Kinks, anybody expecting a full-on reunion shouldn’t hold their breath, but this is the next best thing.

 SETLIST: I Need You, This Is Where I Belong, Dedicated Follower of Fashion, In a Moment, Sunny Afternoon, A Long Way From Home, Waterloo Sunset, Apeman, Dead End, Street, Instrumental, 
’Til The End Of The Day, 
Where Have All The Good Times Gone

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