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Ray Davies, Beacon Theatre, NYC: I’m not like everybody else April 8, 2008

Posted by Anton A in British music, Ray Davies.
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Ray Davies really brought it all for the New York crowd at the Beacon last Tuesday night. Still looking lean, lithe and limber, he shimmied, pranced and writhed his way through a spectacular 27-song romp that lasted for a magical 2 & 1/2 hours. He took great delight in working the crowd up to his standards for the sing-along tunes. With a new well-focused band behind him, he delivered his old and new songs with humor and passion.

The opening chords of a fierce I’m Not Like Everybody Else set the stage; a couple of Kinks classics triggered some thrills, and then the glorious riff and melody of After The Fall from the Other People’s Lives album took us a little higher. For The Tourist, Ray sported a Union Jack-patterned blazer; after the song he pulled it off and flipped it around to show us that it was a reversible with the Stars & Stripes on the other side. Ever the vaudevillian is Ray.

It was a real kick to hear 20th Century Man before the intermission. We briefly discussed the show’s only failing: much of Ray’s between-song patter was a mush of indiscernible words. Somebody needed to cut the reverb on his mike, I think. We missed a lot of stories and humor that Ray was putting out there for us.

But the songs, my gosh; I never dreamed that we’d hear a crescendo like we got in the second set. Ray opened with five songs from the newest album, just him on the acoustic and his guitarist for the first two, beautiful tunes both. The rest of the band came back for Vietnam Cowboys, which has a nifty beat; Ray explained how he wrote the song at his Jane Street Workshop shows in 1999 but felt it was the wrong time to record it.

Ray’s band features an excellent drummer, a talented bassist with a monster Ampeg cabinet, and a Swedish fellow playing a Nord synth who had a great touch with every song, delivering fills and washes in just the right places all night, making it seem like he’d been playing those songs for as long as they’ve existed.

A quick two verses of Fancy signaled the home stretch of Kinks material, six more classic songs in all. Sunny Afternoon was a delight and another huge sing-along; Ray introduced it with a story about how he didn’t think it was much of a song when he wrote it & vowed not to perform it unless it went to #1, which somehow it did. (The crew seemed finally to have cleaned up the between-song sound at that point.) The Swede switched to accordion for a rollicking rendition of Come Dancing. Tired Of Waitng, Set Me Free, All Day And All Of The Night were all delivered with authority and gusto.

Then came the incredible series encores. First they hammered us with a hard-rocking, stretched-out version of Low Budget, which turned into an insanely loud sing-along. What better song for these times?

They stomped off to thunderous applause and came back almost immediately. Ray strummed a few chords from Waterloo Sunset; the theatre erupted. He got us singing the “sha-la-la” parts over & over again till we were all hovering over the Thames at twilight & drifting away to paradise.

The obligatory Lola followed, delivered with more bite than I’d expected. We all sang that one too. Days was stunning; I loved the way Ray sang the first verse completely a capella, delivered the next as an acoustic version & brought in the full band to finish it off, a mini-crescendo that echoed the larger one building in the hall. Imaginary Man, my personal fave from the new album, was next; it’s a slow, contemplative, lilting tune with the “imaginary” backing vocal perfect for another crowd sing-along; beautifully placed and paced.

The band pummelled us once more with, what else, You Really Got Me. That seemed to be it for the night; Ray’s signature walkoff song, Fats Domino’s Walkin’ To New Orleans, came over the speakers as the band left the stage. But no: Ray ran back out to the front mike, yelled “Stop the music! Stop the song! We’ve got time for one more! What do you want to hear?” I suspect he knew exactly what we were going to hear but it was a nice touch. The band came back one last time and they tore into a rocking, thrilling Victoria. I checked my watch when the song ended; Ray had taken it right up to the Beacon’s 11:00 curfew.

This was simply one of the best shows I’ve ever seen, encompassing so many great songs that have punctuated memorable moments in my life for 44 years. I’ve always felt a particular affinity for Ray’s voice, words and melodies. I thank the gods that they are all still here with us.

The complete setlist:

I’m Not Like Everybody Else, Where Have All The Good Times Gone, Till The End of The Day, After The Fall, Well Respected Man, Dead End Street, The Tourist, Working Man’s Cafe, 20th Century Man

intermission

In A Moment, One More Time, Vietnam Cowboys, The Real World, No One Listen, Fancy (abridged), Sunny Afternoon, Come Dancing, Tired Of Waiting, Set Me Free, All Day And All Of The Night

First encore: Low Budget

Second encore: Waterloo Sunset, Days, Lola, Imaginary Man, You Really Got Me

Third encore: Victoria

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