Double the Davies, double the fun. Last week, while on holiday in jolly ol’ England, I got to see the Kinks’ Ray Davies not just once, but twice as he performed in a solo gig in Bristol, as well as headlining the Friday night Greenwich Music Time festival lineup in London.
As an American fan, this was a bit of a rare treat, at least in recent years. Davies has not toured in the USA since a run down the West Coast in 2012. Even his UK dates have been few and far between; the Kink has recently busied himself with his 2013 memoir Americana, working on a new album based on said memoir, and of course, the four-time Olivier Award-winning musical Sunny Afternoon.
The shows were well worth the trip across the Atlantic. Both gigs boasted a similar setlist, but it was the environs that set the shows apart. Davies’ first appearance on Tuesday, July 21st at Bristol’s Colston Hall was obviously the more intimate of the two shows. Davies delighted the audience with the usual Kinks classics, including “Dedicated Follower of Fashion,” described by the man himself as an “old English folk song” with added Irish flair from guitarist Bill Shanely; “Sunny Afternoon,” which opened the door to some shameless promoting of the musical; and “Come Dancing,” disappointing to me only because there was a notable lack of dancing by anyone in the audience to such a great bust-a-move tune. Hardcore fans of the Kinks were treated to some of the more deep-cut tracks, such as “A Long Way From Home” and surprisingly, an impromptu verse from “The Way Love Used To Be” from the 1970 soundtrack Percy, perhaps one of the most beautiful love songs that not enough people know. Davies apologized in advance, noting that we shouldn’t judge him too harshly for the unrehearsed snippet, and while the song was certainly rough, the fans were satisfied to hear the rarity, overlooking any scruples.
Perhaps more importantly, Davies previewed two new songs from his supposedly upcoming Americana album. “That Beat,” is the woeful recognition of a relationship on the rocks, and “Rock ‘n’ Roll Cowboys” ponders the longevity, relevance, and credibility of the cult of rock legends to which Davies himself belongs. It was a refreshing break for fans who have been waiting on new material since Ray Davies’ last original solo album, Working Man’s Cafe, in 2007. The show was concluded for a now-dancing-and-jiving audience with the usual collection of top tracks, “You Really Got Me” and “Lola,” as well as an encore of “Low Budget.” The 71-year-old Davies was in such a good mood throughout the show, that by the end he literally kicked of his shoes to perform the bluesy rocker barefoot.
The gap before Davies’s next show on Friday, July 24th gave me time to journey to the West End and finally see Sunny Afternoon, which was simply magnificent. I won’t go into details, as you can read the REBEAT review of the show from last year, but I will note as a diehard Kinks fan that it was utterly delightful, and I truly hope it transfers to Broadway. While I am disappointed that I was unable to see Olivier-winner George Maguire as Dave as he was on holiday, the understudy Ryan O’Donnell was still fantastic; rather coincidentally I had seen him last autumn touring with Ian Anderson.
Back to Ray Davies. The Greenwich Music Time gig in London was threatened with terrible weather, as cool temperatures, heavy rain, and gusting winds made venturing to the open-air venue undesirable at best. After accidentally stumbling upon an early soundcheck whilst attempting to hide from the rain, my hopes for the show remained strong; Davies’ vocals seemed improved from three days previous, and he even had another go at “The Way Love Used To Be,” although it would not be performed that night.
Perhaps it was luck, but it seemed more like a bit of London magic that the rain ceased by the start of Davies’ headlining set that night, already running late because of the weather. The rain certainly didn’t put a damper on Davies’ spirit. He performed with as much, if not more gusto to the larger, rowdier audience. Anyone who was willing to stand in the cool, wet breeze on the sodden ground was up for anything, and the crowd sang cheerfully along with the Kinks hits, feeding into Davies’ enthusiasm and leading him to proclaim how great the night ended up being in spite of the predicted washout. I was rather surprised that the two new songs were included in the set for this show; I had wrongly assumed that he would keep a festival audience appeased with strictly the standards, but the crowd was very receptive to the fresh material. The setlist was nearly identical to that of Bristol, with a few omissions likely due to the late start of the show, such as “Misfits,” although the Kinks vaudeville-esque drinking ode “Alcohol” was added thanks to the shouted persuasion of a fan.
A review of the Greenwich show in The Guardian describes Davies as “frail but fabulous.” I must disagree with the former adjective; it seems to me a commentary on his age rather than his actual ability to entertain. I saw no signs of weakness, nor any struggle to perform. No, he’s not a young man, and no, his vocals are not the same as they were 30, 40, or 50 years ago. But that’s to be expected. Davies knows how to compensate his voice and his presence to his current state of being a normal, aging human and therefore is just as captivating as he ever was.
What will come next for the Kink is anyone’s guess. Ray Davies has three more UK festival sets coming up in August, and after that, we can only hope that he will continue to work on the proposed album and perhaps finally make his way back to the States. His brother, Dave Davies, has a string of shows lined up in the USA for October and November, as well as one London show in December.
(Cover photo at Colston Hall by James Swartz.)