Ray Davies – The Vic (Chicago, IL)
On April Fool’s Day in Chicago, Ray Davies stepped onstage as Max, his alter ego vaudevillian comic who freely admits he’s the “lowest common denominator” in a society that continues to make them precious commodities.
The guise was one of many Davies rotated through during a two-hour-and-40-minute show that spanned the entirety of his 43-year career as rock’s hooligan auteur, a writer of songs that both celebrate and scorn daily living, with knuckles firmly on display. Not much has changed. “I was once a tough,” he told the crowd with a wink, before launching into “Low Budget”, a working-class anthem that got Davies shouting along with the crowd and — turning around so no one would miss out — shaking his ass in double overtime.
For a 61-year-old man who caught a bullet in his leg just two years ago, there was an impish spark in his step. The show served to show the vitality of both the songbook and the performer. Davies had not previously toured with a full band since the Kinks flamed out; during this sold-out evening, the crowd was primed to chant along to each word as well as cover the stage with paper plates, all scrawled with requests.
He readily complied, in a show that was exactly what you’d want from someone with the scope of his career. Rock legends have a reputation these days of phoning in the hits under sports arena domes, to power-broker audiences glued to cell phones and PDAs.
Reverse that scenario and you were at the Vic. Although the set certainly had a rehearsed trajectory, it naturally flowed, sewing up Davies’ career. He opened solo, playing the definitive “I’m Not Like Everybody Else”, took a seat for sobering fare from Muswell Hillbillies and The Village Green Preservation Society, and later bashed through the early British Invasion hits. With the exception of melding “You Really Got Me” with “The Banana Boat Song”, Davies and his four-member band of relative young guns re-ignited the brash and buoyant energy of that era.
The new songs from Other People’s Lives, his recent album, were darker. Some received unplugged treatment that sounded thin. Others, such as “The Tourist”, were matched to the full band, serving up definitive Davies: comedic storytelling, a strong backbeat and cynicism with a smile.
With those paper plates volleyed in every direction, Davies tried cramming in songs through snippets. Didn’t work. Testimony to his songbook was that there wasn’t enough time. Even his B-sides — out came 1965’s “Where Have All The Good Times Gone” — are power-pop crushers.
Although he touted his commercial failures (Village Green is “one of the most unsuccessful albums ever made,” he quipped), a show like this illustrated that time is an avenger. At this point, Davies may not have the checkbook of Mick Jagger or Paul McCartney, but he certainly matches them in songs, and beats them in showing he still wants to play them.