Last night, after a very full day devoted to intensive labor on my Senate Finance testimony for next week plus sundry internal NYU matters, I returned home feeling a bit beaten down ("It's hard work," as Bush would say) but with an evening event on my schedule - a Ray Davies concert at the Beacon Theater.
How au courant to be going to such a concert, some of my NYU colleagues said. Not that I was trying to be. Better just to rest after a day of long hard slogging, if that were the goal. But another colleague, who actually is somewhat au courant, used instead the word "old-fogeyish" to describe going to such a thing. (Had he seen the audience in the orchestra section of the theater he would have felt entirely vindicated.) But my true reason for going was that I hoped the concert would be interesting and fun. It was - and I felt really revived afterwards.
The biggest surprise, though I suppose it shouldn't have been, was what a showman, as well as a hungry sponge for audience acclaim and approval, Davies proved to be. Also seemingly a genuinely nice man, although that isn't the standard formula for a rock 'n' roll lead singer (and on-stage appearances can surely be deceiving). There's so much depression, scorn, and paranoia in some parts of his songwriting canon that I was expecting something a bit different. (Maybe I was succumbing as well to the romantic myth of the lonely, suffering artist.) Obviously lots of other parts of his canon express something very different than this (e.g., Days and Waterloo Sunset). But one could see how integral to his overall set of drives were his fifteen plus years (from the early 70s on) of playing dreadful arena rock so as to "give the people what they want" (as one of his album titles put it).
So there he was, actively seeking sing-alongs on all the old Kinks hits, coming back on stage when the show seemed to be over because he wanted to do just one more number, then doing another one after that, thanking the crowd, mourning the Kinks, throwing repeated verbal bouquets to the guitar playing of his estranged brother Dave, praising his current band and asking if we liked them too, etcetera.
More needy than smarmy, however. And he's still a great singer as well as one of the premier rock songwriters, with his trademark plaintive but indelible minor-key hooks that only the Beatles could really do as well. (That plus the articulate lyrics, ability to capture moods, and the memorable power-chord runs that others such as the Who stole from him.) No other songwriter from that era has come close to his recent writing except for Dylan, who still sets his own standard but really just on Modern Times.
Almost all Kinks in the first set (although two from his first solo release), then after the intermission five or so cuts from the new album starting out acoustic then returning to the full band, and finally a mix of old classics with more new stuff. Almost all of his Kinks material was from the band's first 3 or so years. Nothing from Village Green unless you count Days (which is from the same era and is on the extended reissue but not the original album). Only 3 songs from the 70s and 80s, which (Lola excepted) was a mercy. And the new material really did stand up to the old although perhaps not quite as rousing.