Tuesday, March 21, 2006


Some old rockers still have something to say - something more than the usual blastings of the music industry and bitter recollections of how record companies swindled them out of royalties. With a Grammy under his belt for 1997's Time Out of Mind album and loads of media attention thanks to his recent Chronicles autobiography and Martin Scorsese's No Direction Home documentary, Bob Dylan is the most high-profile rock legend to be recently lauded for his ability to stay relevant and "on message" for his times even as he reaches into his Golden Years. But he's not alone. The gold may have turned to silver, but other seniors in his class (Class of '60s, that is) - varsity lettermen like Neil Young, Van Morrison, and Ray Davies - are proving that they too still have songs left unsung. And while the anger and interests of youth may have subsided into less confrontational themes and priorities - like songs reflecting on the March of Time, the death of a parent, or the loneliness of empty nesters - the art they continue to create still resonates with passion and purpose. Amidst all the aural overload in today's iPOD-wired, Satellite-radio blaring world, they still have poignant chords to strike. Or as Ray Davies sings in "Run Away From Time" (off his new - and first solo - album, Other People's Lives), "Time is the avenger, but why should we surrender?", rightly observing that "The world is too obsessed by the constant request for the Fountain of Youth they never will find."

This past weekend I paid homage to the Good Old Boys Network of Rock. Friday night I saw the Jonathan Demme concert film of Neil Young's post-aneurysm Prairie Wind tour, Neil Young: Heart of Gold - I loved it! (the song about his Dad's senior dementia hit home and made me cry) - and Monday night capped my trip down Memory Lane by going to see the Washington, D.C. leg of Ray Davies' 12-city North American Tour in support of his first solo album, Other People's Lives.

Thank You for the Days, Ray

I'm a Kinks kultist, and yet I have never ever seen them (and it's quite likely, with Dave Davies still recovering from a stroke, that I never will). So I felt it was imperative that I make up for my sins of omission and see Ray Davies on his short-listed tour of the States. After all, how many more tours does a 61-year-old hard-living man like Ray Davies have in him? I wasn't disappointed. Ray is a born entertainer and he's a press darling of late, with UNCUT Magazine recently putting the Kinks on the front cover and including a free CD (flatteringly entitled "The Modern Genius of Ray Davies") of contemporary indie rock bands covering some of his best tunes as well as a few of his most neglectd gems (including outstanding versions of "Better Things" by the The Fountains of Wayne and the ultra-rare "Strange Effect" by former Dream Syndicate guitarist Steve Wynn)

There was no opening band at the 9:30 Club, just Cab Calloway music playing on the PA system before Ray took the stage about half past 8 p.m. He was in fine spirits as he started things off with an acoustic set.

Ray started off his solo tour solo (appropriately enough), intoning the non-arguable statement "I'm Not Like Everybody Else," before proceeding to play a set of Kinks klassics, prefacing his hits medley with the comment that it was "an honor to sing them" to the crowd, who he encouraged throughout the night to sing along with him (e.g., "Come on, you know it, what's the next line?"). Ray mixed acoustic with electric throughout the night, often starting on acoustic before thundering away with full band behind him. All the hits were played, even the obligatory encor e of "Lola," but Ray managed to work in about half of the tunes on his new album, as well. My fave line of all the new songs was easily the one from "Next Door Neighbors" in which he described Mr. Brown running away "with an Essex blonde" (no doubt meaning Essex, England but resonating just as well for those of us familiar with Baltimore's Essex, the Redneck Riviera of Middle River!).

After his last encore tune ("Lola," of course), the PA started playing Fats Domino's "Walking To New Orleans," once again reinforcing Ray's love of the music-rich American city where he spent so much time before it partially washed away after Katrina's deluge.

During the show I talked briefly to a guy scribbling away in a notebook and asked him if he was a reporter. He was - his name is Scott Galupa and I'm including his excellent review for the Washington Times ("Kinks Legacy Not Close To Fading") at the end of my blog blather.It does more justice to the show than my meandering thoughts.

Washington Times Concert Review

Kinks' legacy not close to fading
By Scott Galupo
March 22, 2006

Ray Davies said it was an honor to play them. Actually, it was an honor to hear them. Kinks songs, I mean.

For two-plus hours at a nearly sold-out 9:30 Club Monday night, Mr. Davies, weathered but still spry at 61, played some of the most enduring songs of the classic rock canon, including riffs-heard-round-the-world rockers such as "All Day and All of the Night" and "You Really Got Me," plus English pop masterpieces such as "Sunny Afternoon," "Village Green" and "Tired of Waiting for You."

Of the former variety, Mr. Davies recounted Decca Records' dismissive characterizations of the raw sound of brother Dave Davies' guitar: "like a barking dog" and -- as if that weren't cringe-inducing enough -- too "working-class." (This is the same label that turned down the Beatles.)

Citing his "continued fascination with the sound of [Dave's] guitar," Mr. Davies sounded last night as if he missed his brother and frequent foil -- personally and professionally. He dedicated a fragile version of the nostalgic "A Long Way From Home" to him. Kinks reunion, anyone?

The Kinks, apparently dormant for the time being, have made up in influence what they have lacked in record sales -- a fact not lost on Mr. Davies. Before playing an acoustic suite of songs from 1968's "The Village Green Preservation Society" (including a sublime "Animal Farm" and a spiky "Johnny Thunder"), he recalled the album as the "biggest Kinks flop." However, if "flops" hang around long enough, Mr. Davies added proudly, "you'll become a cult."

Monday's performance was no mere hit parade. Mr. Davies dug into the Kinks' seemingly limitless catalog, kicking off with the beloved B-side "I'm Not Like Everybody Else" -- a kind of lifestyle credo for the famously individualistic singer.

A depression-prone misfit, Mr. Davies has hinted often, in songs such as the pin-the-tail-on-the-taxman "Sunny Afternoon" and "20th Century Man" ("I'm a 20th-century man/but I don't wanna die here," he sang with growling passion) that he's something of a traditionalist who's uncomfortable with the modern, impersonal, bourgeois welfare state.

Grungy singalongs such as "Low Budget," a late-period Kinks hit with which Mr. Davies had particular fun Monday, were happy antidotes to too much deep thinking, however.

Mr. Davies also has a new solo album (his first) to promote: the respectable, occasionally great "Other People's Lives." In a show of confidence, he played more than half the songs from "Lives." He noted the eerie prescience of songs such as "After the Fall," which was recorded (like the rest of the album) before he was shot in the leg and seriously wounded by a fleeing purse snatcher in New Orleans.

"It's about retribution, guilt, suffering -- does anybody have any of that?" Mr. Davies asked, a veritable quorum call of his favorite themes. At the conclusion of the first-album Kinks gem "Set Me Free," the thrice-married Mr. Davies said, in a tone more comic than rueful, "She did after that."

Supporting Mr. Davies was a sturdy four-piece band, notably including skillful lead guitarist Mark Jones, that was alternately twee and punk-furious, depending on the diverse needs of Mr. Davies' songbook. The new song "The Tourist" became a longish psychedelic foray, with Mr. Davies ditching his "Low Budget" flannel shirt and re-emerging after an intermission sporting black shades.

After a show-stopping "Lola" -- if he didn't play it, there might have been demands for refunds -- Mr. Davies stood at the foot of the stage, a bottle of suds in hand, and drank in the applause of a heartily appreciative crowd.

If Ray (and Dave) Davies' music is akin to a barking dog, well, there's no doubt he's still best in show.

Washington Post Concert Review

And here's the review from the Times' rival.
Ray Davies
Despite the general rule that rockers over 50 don't write tunes as worthy as those they penned in their twenties, legendary Kinks frontman Ray Davies has a few songs on his new "Other People's Lives" that deserve respect. Monday night at the 9:30 club, the 61-year-old Davies led a band through a rewarding two-hour-plus show that mixed cuts from that new CD along with favorites from his catalogue.

The usually curmudgeonly Davies was in an amiable mood, happily balancing a beer bottle on his head at one point. While not as talkative as he was 10 years ago on the "Storyteller" tour, he nevertheless prefaced several numbers with entertaining anecdotes, including the tale of how he initially wrote "You Really Got Me" as a blues number on a piano at his parents' home. He even spoke fondly of his brother, Dave, with whom he had some famous disagreements.

After beginning the show by whipping through straight-ahead takes on Kinks standards including "I'm Not Like Everybody Else," "Where Have All the Good Times Gone" and "Till the End of the Day," the often-labeled Godfather of Britpop switched to acoustic guitar and slowed things down. A mini-suite of songs from "The Village Green Preservation Society," including "Picture Book," as well as the new numbers "Next Door Neighbour" and "Creatures of Little Faith," showed off his striking ability to pen wistful melodies with cutting, descriptive lyrical observations.

After a brief intermission, Davies used the second half of the evening to dig into pretty, slow-tempo songs such as "A Long Way From Home" and a series of noisy rockers. After explaining how a record company wouldn't sign the Kinks because their guitars sounded like barking dogs, Davies, guitarist Mark Johns and the band gleefully performed an abrasive "All Day and All of the Night." Enlisting crowd participation, Davies later finished off the evening's encores with the Kinks' cheerful hit about a transvestite, "Lola." - Steve Kiviat

Random order set list at 9:30 Club:

Following is my foggy recollection of the night's musical treats, with album sources noted in CAPS where possible.
Kinks Klassics Opening Singalong Set - "I'm Not Like Everybody Else," "All Day and All of the Night," "Where Have All the Good Times Gone?", "Tired of Waiting For You," "Dead End Street," "Set Me Free," "'Till the End of the Day," "Sunny Afternoon"

VILLAGE GREEN PRESERVATION SOCIETY (1968) - "Village Green," (I loved the part where Ray stopped after singing, "And Daisy's married Tom the Grocer boy" to ask the audience "What's the next line" to which the audience sang back "And now he owns a grocery" - "Makes perfect sense!" Ray concluded, mocking the simplicity of his own lyric), "Animal Farm," "Johnny Thunder," "Picture Book"

LOW BUDGET (1979) - "Low Budget"

SCHOOLBOYS IN DISGRACE (1975) - "The Hard Way"

MUSWELL HILLBILLIES (1971) - "20th Century Man," "Oklahoma U.S.A." (dedicated to his sister Rosie)

LOLA VS. POWERMAN AND THE MONEY-GO-ROUND, PART ONE (1970): "A Long Way From Home" (dedicated to his brother Dave), "Lola"

OTHER PEOPLE'S LIVES (2006) - "Things Are Gonna Change," "After the Fall," "The Tourist," "The Getaway (Lonesome Train)," "Stand-Up Comic," "Creature of the Night" and "Next Door Neighbours"

Encores - "Days," "You Really Got Me," "Lola"

Reviews of Other People's Lives

Here's a nice All Music Guide review of Other People's Lives:

Other People's Lives
Most artists don't wait until they're nearly 62 to deliver their first official solo album, but Ray Davies has never been predictable. As a matter of fact, Davies is the quintessential rock contrarian, doggedly following his path, sometimes to the detriment of his own art or career. This obstinate nature extends to the very sound of his solo debut Other People's Lives, a shiny, simmered-in-the-studio album where each song creeps on just a little longer than necessary. This 2006 effort sounds roughly 16 years out of time -- sonically, it could comfortably function as the follow-up to 1989's UK Jive -- and its slickness may keep some listeners at a distance, particularly if they're craving a stripped-down, back-to-basics comeback along the lines of Dylan's Love and Theft or the Stones' A Bigger Bang. But such a bare-bones effort isn't in Davies's nature -- ever since the early '70s, he's kept things clean and glistening on the surface while being prickly underneath. This may not suit the tastes of fans pining for a return to Village Green, but behind that smooth production are a set of songs that reveal that Davies has returned to form as a rich, idiosyncratic pop songwriter.

As he states in his wonderful liner notes -- where he details the recording circumstances for each cut, plus the album at large -- Other People's Lives is no concept album, but there are themes that hold it together. Davies tackles mortality and, one of his favorite themes, domesticity, head-on here, and his wit and wry critical eye remain intact. As an album, Other People's Lives may occasionally lag in momentum, but song for song, this is his strongest set of material since Low Budget, but a better comparison may be Misfits. Like that 1978 gem, this record doesn't rock hard and has a distinct writerly bent, as Davies presents a collection of narratives and character sketches that play like short stories. If there's a sense of creeping mortality here, there's also little fear (and there's no rumination over his shooting in New Orleans, either, since all the material was written before that incident). There's humor, irony, earned sentimentality and knowing, careful observations, all wrapped up in meticulously crafted words and music. There are hints of the Kinks -- "Is There Life After Breakfast?" lopes along like an outtake from Everybody's in Show-Biz, the absurd "Stand Up Comic" recalls the vaudevillian hard rock of the late '70s -- but there's nothing written as a conscious emulation of his past; instead, he's returning to his strengths and finding new wrinkles within his signature style. And if there are no flat-out knockouts here, there's not a bad song here, either, and each tune seems stronger with repeated plays. Most of all, Ray Davies sounds engaged as a writer and musician in a way that he hasn't in years, and that doesn't just make for a strong comeback, but it makes listeners realize what they've all missed since he's been away for 13 years (or perhaps longer, given the disconnect on latter-day Kinks records). Here's hoping that Other People's Lives kicks off a latter-day renaissance for the singer/songwriter, since it's proof that while many try to emulate him, there's no substitute for the crankiest, funniest songwriter in pop. ~ Stephen Thomas Erlewine, All Music Guide

Related Links:

Kinks Legacy Not Close To Fading (Scott Galupo, Washington Times)
Washington Post Review
The Official Ray Davies Website


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