Music Review: Ray Davies and the Kinks

Girl, you really got me goin’
You got me so I don’t know what I’m doin’

(Go up an octave)

Yeah, you really got me now
You got me so I can’t sleep at night

You’ve really got me, you’ve really got me.

For me the beginning of the Kinks’ song “You’ve Really Got Me” and to a similar degree the opening of their “All Day and All of the Night” represent the early days of British rock more than anything else.  Yes, more than the opening of the Stones’ “Satisfaction,” more than the the iconic opening chord of the Beatles’ “Help” or even the early intros to “I Want to Hold Your Hand”  or “Twist and Shout.”  It just seems more primal, less produced, more rock-and-roll.

Someone once told me that Rock-and-Roll was basically about wanting to “do it,” that jazz was about “doing it” and that country music was about “doing it with the waitress because your wife wrecked your truck and ran off with your dog and your best friend.”  I always liked that definition–encapsulates things very nicely, I think.

Anyway, by those parameters, the Kinks first two hits were pure Rock-and Roll.

Ray Davies and The 88 at the Uptown Theater in Napa.

I drove into Napa last Friday night from San Francisco and just fifty yards away from where I was staying was the Uptown theater with Ray Davies advertised for Tuesday the 17th.  Didn’t know if I’d make it–had a lot of wine yet to drink and a lot of wineries yet to visit–but go I did.  And I was glad. The opening band The 88 were very good–the front man reminded me a lot of Larry Kirwan from Black 47–and later they acted as Ray Davies back-up band for the second half of Davies’ set.

And then Davies came on.  Nearly 50 years have passed since he and his brother Dave began the Kinks, and the years have taken their toll on his body–he looked thin and haggard and old. (Having experienced a terrible mugging in New Orleans a few years back also took its toll.) In fact often during the show he reminded me of the Bill Nighy character in the film Love Actually. (So much so, that I wonder if the director of the film had Ray Davies in mind when he cast and directed Nighy in the role.)
But his voice and his showmanship were still the same.  If you closed your eyes, no time had passed.  Accompanied by the Irish guitarist, Bill Shanley, and then by The 88, Davies put on a hell of a show with energy that belied his age.
It must be difficult for an artist whose major work is behind him.  Davies is still recording solo, still writing good music, but he is well aware that the majority of his audience wants to hear what he used to do…especially what he used to do with his old band.  He generously mixed many of his old Kinks tunes with newer things from later solo albums–but the majority of the set list  seemed to be the Kinks’ tunes. He introduced his new stuff by asking the audience “to just indulge me for a few minutes.”His new material is good, fine songwriting, fine melodies, but most of the audience wanted the past.
I didn’t write them down, but from the Kinks’ repertoire I know he did at least these titles:
•  Waterloo Sunset
•  Victoria
•  Celluloid Heroes
•  Low Budget
•  Apeman
•  Dedicated Follower of Fashion
•  Twentieth-Century Man
•  Dead-End Street
•  A Sunny Afternoon
•  All Day and All of the Night
•  You Really Got Me
So it was a great night of rock-and-roll, re-creating the sound of one of the seminal bands of the “first British invasion.”  I have always thought the Kinks were grossly underrated–and still do.  After their initial success with rocking tunes, they went on to create beautiful songs that often poked the stereotypical view of the “idyllic English life” in the eye.  They were clever, witty, and fun.  And Ray Davies is still capturing that on stage.
As a treat, here is a video of Ray Davies and the Kinks from a long, long time ago, but a treat nevertheless:

Sunday Music–Black 47

For the next two weeks, Philadelphia is awash with “Irish” bands.  Most of them are home-grown and are playing at bars that are on the maps of organized pub crawls for the next two weekends. (Why do so many “Irish” pubs have initials. P.J. O’Toole’s, J.D. McGullicuddy’s, J.P. Monaghan’s?  Wasn’t any Irish kid called by his full name? Or was calling him by his initials a way to ensure that  he becomes a bar-owner?)  Anyway, there is a lot of live Irish music around right now–some of it great, some of it less so.  It is also the time when a slew of national/international Irish-music acts come through the area.  The Chieftains played here Friday night; the SawDoctors are in town Tuesday night; and Lunasa is here on Wednesday night.

Black 47 was at the World Cafe on Friday night, the 9th.  They were brilliant. It had been 10 years since I saw them last, and they are still musically tight, politically raucous, and extraordinary fun. The front man, Larry Kirwan is a dynamo of energy, the brass section is still stellar, and the newer additions (for me, that is) have added to the fun and musicianship. Black 47’s music is raucous and tender,  a mix of Springsteen and the Clash, heavily infused with Celtic melodies and themes.  The songs are filled with stories about life in NYC,  paeans to Irish heroes, recollected broken hearts and broken bones, and clarions for political action.

Larry Kirwan, as I said, is prolific. I once saw a play of his on Governor’s Island at the Guinness Fleadh in 1997–now collected in his book of plays, Mad Angels: The Plays of Larry Kirwan.  At the moment he is doing publicity for his latest novel, Rocking the Bronx; he has his own radio-show Celtic Crush on Sirrus/XM radio, has put together a Celtic Kid’s album and book, and is working on a musical with Thomas Kenneally (author of Schindler’s List).

But put that aside for the time.  Two nights ago I saw Larry Kirwan and Black 47 do what they do so well–deliver a raucous, fun rock show.  Below is an old video from perhaps their most famous song–anyone who was in NYC during the 90s heard in every joint that had a jukebox.  So here it is: Black 47’s “Funky Ceili” (The video ends abruptly before the classic line, “Does he have red hair and glasses” and showing an infant with Larry’s horn-rims, hah!):