Ray Davies, The 88
The Palladium Ballroom
March 17, 2010
Better than: Being the oldest person in the crowd, which I seemed to be at NX35.
What a fickle position to be Raymond Douglas Davies. To be simultaneously a rock-and-roll oldies generation entertainer and a darling to the indie-pop set.
In his nearly two hour set last night, the bulk of which was performed acoustically with guitarist Bill Shanley, Ray Davies treaded gracefully over these two roles. At times the wry social critique in songs like "Apeman" would be lost to the sing-along tendency that is so pleasing to the rock-and-roll oldies generation. At other times--and more appealing to the indie-pop set--there would be a brief glimmer of that tasty Ray Davies cocktail of cynicism and sad vulnerability in the songs like "The Tourist" or "See My Friends."
Where Ray Davies is the most captivating is in his storytelling. This wasn't just between-song banter or the ramblings of an old man with an audience. The stories about New Orleans, his home for the last few years; his brother, Dave Davies; as well as a brief reading from his "unauthorized autobiography" X-Ray were supported by the songs. We all know the songs, probably as well as Ray, so what saved this experience from being a full-blown oldies revue is how the songs and stories served one another. The beauty of this was most evident in his performance of "Two Sisters," a song about his relationship with brother Dave.
The storytelling aspect of the show also gave Ray a chance to show his skill in imitating the characters in his life. His New Orleans accent was spot-on, as was his Paul Shaffer when talking about his appearance on David Letterman. His choice of doing a verse of "Dedicated Follower of Fashion" as Johnny Cash could have been a sad disaster had he not been able to do it so well.
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Towards the end of the show, Davies hinted at his shaky stance with The Kinks, saying that he doesn't think they're through just yet, he's just waiting for that phone call; he then ripped into "All Day and All of the Night". At the end of the evening he was joined by tour openers The 88 for four songs: "You Really Got Me", "David Watts", "Celluloid Heroes" and "Low Budget," and on the encore "Lola."
At 65 years old, Davies is still a vibrant and relevant performer. If his brother Dave is willing and capable (after his stroke in 2004) a Kinks reunion would not be so far-fetched or embarrassing as those by many of his British Invasion-era peers, which is nice because we need Ray to come back around and do the songs missed last night, including "Waterloo Sunset."
Random Note: My wife and I were both horrified and fascinated by the single, middle-age "dude" across the aisle who would at any moment bound out of his seat pumping his pointing fingers in the air a swaying his hips like a simian Mick Jagger with shouts of "RAY DAVIEEEES! WOOOO! LOVE YA BABY!"