This is my first crack at writing a review for a new category on my site called: “Arts and Culture”
A Well Respected Man Ray Davies Live at the State Theater -Ithaca, New York Saturday November 26, 2011
I had the privilege and the thrill to see Ray Davies at the State Theater in Ithaca on November 26. I am at a point in my life when it sometimes feels like I may never pass this way again. So when rare opportunities present themselves, I am inclined to jump. This event was one of those opportunities. If you’ve ever even remotely liked anything he’s done with The Kinks, you would have loved this concert. If you never liked his work, perhaps you should avert your eyes, but it’s never too late to start. Some of my favorite descriptive adjectives have fallen into the category of cliché’ buzzwords by virtue of their over use in the lexicon of pop slang. Words like “epic”, “awesome”, and “legendary” have become shallow parodies of their former selves. However, in this case, I feel I can legitimately use those words with the full power of their intended meanings to describe what was truly a magical performance. This was not a golden oldies show by an over the hill former pop star trying to squeeze the last juice out of a couple of hits from back in the 60’s. What unfolded that evening was a tour de force by a master artist at the height of his powers, in the full bloom of maturity. This was the real deal.
Davies has produced a body of work spanning five decades and he is well on his way to adding a sixth. Although he may be best known to many as lead singer and songwriter for The Kinks, he has also written two books, acted, directed and produced shows for theater and television. He has never been afraid of experimentation and his most recent projects include an album of musical collaborations with other artists, (See My Friends) and recording and touring with full sized, professional choirs. (The Kinks Choral Collection)
Ray Davies’ writing has always been edgy and genre bending, yet pertinent and relevant. He is one of the great literate observers of life, modern culture, the human predicament, politics and history; and he expresses it all through songs that are full of irony, humor, humility, and humanity. While many of his songs are acerbic statements about affectation, hypocrisy, greed, social issues and human foibles, they are also about the great themes of the British romantic poets – love, beauty, nature and the miraculous beauty of being alive. His songs are self-contained short fictions, universes unto themselves, filled with the stories of people’s lives. His musical compositions are a mixed bag of different styles and genres ranging from folk to blues, theatrical vaudeville to Dixieland jazz, and “in your face” rock and roll, with all its permutations.
He opened with an acoustic set accompanied by his supremely talented lead guitarist, Bill Shanley, and then proceeded to burn the house down with a smoking, white hot band. With a stroke of theatrical genius, he concluded this segment of the show with a reading from his 1994 autobiography X-Ray that led into the epic 20th Century Man from the Muswell Hillbillies album. It’s a powerful song about alienation and life in a postmodern dystopia that could easily be about life in America today. He started it with only his acoustic guitar, as the band filtered quietly onto the stage and turned it into a raging rocker that probably had George Orwell dancing in his grave.
Davies’ performance drew from his entire catalogue of work. Songs that are almost 50 years old sounded fresh and new, and are as relevant as ever in light of everything that is currently going on. The play list ran the gamut from the elegiac to the anthemic, and heart breaking beautiful ballads to full on rockers.
Davies’ stage presence was engaging and endearing. It was clearly evident how much he appreciates the support of his fans as he interacted with the crowd, spontaneously cracking jokes, shaking hands and signing autographs. His over all message was ebullient and positive: “It’s going to be OK – it’s all going to work out fine- don’t worry…” People need to hear that in these times.
Ray Davies’ work is an inspiration to keep going, to keep getting better with age and most importantly to maintain a sense of humor and a positive attitude in the face of everything that life can throw in your face. We’re all going to get our asses kicked by life from time to time. There’s an underlying theme running through his songs that reminds us that what’s important is that you get back up, dust yourself off and smile while saying: “Is that the best ya got?” His show was a big, brash, bold affirmation of life and a reminder that you’re never too old to rock and roll!