Sunday, May 16, 2010

Concert: Ray Davies

Cambridge Corn Exchange, 13th May 2010.

If I'd wanted to give this post a smart-arse title, I'd have been spoiled for choice, wouldn't I? "Well-Respected Man", "You Really Got Me", "Not Like Everybody Else", "Loud, But Never Square"...

Or, to put it another way - well, it's not too hard to see some of the surviving legends of Ray Davies's form and era - from the far side of a stadium, at considerable expense. But in a venue the size of the Corn Exchange, for local-venue prices? That wouldn't really have been sensible to miss.

Of course, Ray Davies was one of the lesser Big Names of his era, being the most quintessentially British of the British Invaders. But I'll put him up there with any of them, for influence as well as talent. I don't really like "If no A, then no B, C, D, or F" comparisons - influence and history don't work like that - but subtract the Davies/Kinks influence and where are you with Bowie, or the Jam, or the Pretenders, or Blur? And the blighter was productive, too; every now and again at this gig I was thinking "Hey, he's used most of his big hits already, where's he going from here" - and then out would come yet another classic pop song.

Which said, being limited to the resources of a small-ish touring band did restrict the range of effects that Davies could apply, to the point where (whisper it) some of the songs were in some danger of sounding the same as each other. He started with just himself and another guitarist, playing mostly acoustic but seriously amplified, and then brought on the keyboards, drums, and bass; the classic rock/pop configuration, playing in fairly conventional style - and at one point performing a string of heavier numbers (yes, including "You Really Got Me") that would remind one that the Kinks also got some credit or blame for Heavy Metal. (Although to be fair, they probably gave it a useful sense of melody and some wit.) The other notable feature of the performance, though, the one off-beat stylistic touch, was the way that Davies used the audience in his arrangements.

I believe that he's long had some tendencies this way - live albums with the audience sounds mixed high, and so on - and I don't think that it's exactly egotism; rather, Davies treats his more exuberant fans (and the front row at this event were definitely exuberant) as part of the show and therefore part of the music, letting them provide vocal fills when they want to. The trouble is, a bunch of dedicated rock fans aren't the most precise of instruments... Still, it was often fun, and many of the songs could stand it, including some that perhaps shouldn't have had to. I've said before that "Waterloo Sunset" can withstand pretty well anything, and that turns out to include this sort of live performance with the audience providing occasional backing vocals.

Anyway - repeatedly, throughout the show, Davies and the band would hurtle yet again into some neat little pop song that was also a small masterpiece of slice-of-life poetry. And this guy wrote all this stuff, and has been performing since about 1962. The place was full of people of a range of ages, all doubtless being reminded of important parts of the soundtrack to their lives. I wouldn't have missed it for the world.

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