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Thursday, Nov. 10, 2011

Ray Davies w/ The 88 @ The Pabst Theater

Nov. 9, 2011

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If it was Bob Dylan who legitimatized rock lyrics as poetry, then Ray Davies deserves credit for elevating them to the level of literate prose. After breaking through big with British Invasion beat classics like "You Really Got Me" and "All Day and All of the Night," Davies and his band mates in The Kinks matured at an astonishing rate, becoming one of the most sophisticated pop acts of the 1960s, thanks mostly to Davies' sharply observed sketches of modern English society, which took on class, relationships and politics with subtly and an eye for telling detail, like short stories delivered in two to three minutes. But while it's these '60s and early '70s sides that remain his crowning achievements, The Kinks endured a long, slow decline before breaking up in the mid-'90s, at which point Davies embarked on a healthy solo career. All of these phases were represented here tonight, with varying degrees of success, but the gracious, adoring crowd greeted each with excitement.

When Davies first took the stage, with an extra acoustic guitar player in tow, he set immediately into some of his best work; "Sunny Afternoon", "Apeman" and (somewhat astonishingly) "Waterloo Sunset" all made intimate early appearances before he went off stage and emerged again with a full backing band, opening act The 88. Judging by their warm-up performance, The 88 would slot in nicely on WUWM at Nite, which is to say they're polished, good at what they do and about as yawn-inducing as an Ambien chased with a glass of warm milk, but they did an admirable job supporting the rock legend, even as the set list slid into the lesser eras of the late '70s and the '80s, what Davies himself called "the lean years." Davies' songwriting acumen never left him, but over time the strain began to show, and The Kinks' material ceased to seem as effortlessly graceful, not that you'd know it by the crowd's enthusiasm for the songs. Still, Davies and Company continued to make time for the classics, but it was in rare flashes that they approached their true power. "All Day and All of the Night" and "You Really Got Me" felt obligatory, and he actually went off for a smoke break as the band played "David Watts," but the entire endeavor was made worth it by his lovely renditions of "This Time Tomorrow," "Nothin' in the World Can Stop Me Worryin' 'Bout that Girl" and the aforementioned "Waterloo Sunset". But there was one song that was noticeably absent, one concerning a naïve young man who falls for a transvestite, and Davies seem to have fun dangling it above the audience; when it came time to introduce the last number, he rubbed it in a little more, stretching out the first syllable before announcing "Low Budget" instead.

Overall, the set lacked consistency, and its song selection was frustrating. Some of his solo material is quite nice, but why anyone would want to hear (or play) mediocre, mid-period cuts when you have a vast treasure trove of hits, and exquisite obscurities, at your disposal is beyond me. But still, when Davies shined, he really shined, and in those moments, the show proved to be well worth the price of admission. 

Photo by Erik Ljung