After the Ray Davies show at Higher Ground‚ an older acquaintance asked me‚ "How did you like the show?" I said‚ "Loved it." I went on to explain that there's been something that's just adding up with this music lately. I haven't quite put my finger on it‚ but every time I hear The Kinks/Ray Davies it strikes something raw and right. Like never before.
I've been chewing on this for months: I grew up being exposed to this music as much as any of the rock greats‚ so why is it hitting me like this now? Why at this point in my life and my musical journey does this music make so much sense to me? The guy I was talking to tried to explain my feelings by saying that it has to be that rebellious‚ angst of being in your 20s that's probably resonating so deeply with me. I just nodded and said yeah. But inside I thought‚ "Yeah‚ that's the biggest bullshit generalization I've ever heard." First off‚ I'm not in my 20s‚ and second‚ I wish it were that easy. That's what they say to sell it.
It's not about youth‚ angst and rebellion. I think it speaks to me because I'm in my 30s and ambivalent. It's about modern-day life where the direction day in‚ day out feels as stable as a teeter-totter drenched in alcohol. And nothing's okay‚ but you really can't deal with living any other way. In some ways‚ it's wishing you gave a rat's ass about angst‚ youth and rebellion and things like that. I'm finding that this songwriting isn't fueling that fire; it's the type of songwriting that speaks to the part of you that is slowly dying inside and gives you a good blast. For the two weeks leading up to the show‚ The Kinks' Muswell Hillbillies had been my soundtrack. Misfit observations‚ a sense of humor‚ and irreverence for the right reasons all come through in the songs. Amen to that.
Sure enough‚ when Davies and Bill Shanley took the stage with two acoustic guitars and banged their way through‚ "I'm Not Like Everybody Else" and "Where Have All the Good Times Gone" I felt myself naturally begin to sway and move. This was speaking to me. It had all that great rock 'n' roll sensationalism‚ equally matched with a genuine voice.
And Ray is a showman. Immediately‚ he had the crowd into it‚ interacting with them and getting them to sing along. It gave the show a spontaneous and free-flowing feel. He told stories between songs and looked as if he was having the time of his life playing. There was nothing schtick-y about his performance‚ even as much as he hammed it up for the audience. He would say things like‚ "You can run from your job. And you can run from everything. But you can't run from yourself‚" before playing a song that was just as poignant.
After about 45 minutes of acoustic songs‚ the band slowly started taking the stage. My friend who I was sharing the experience with hit the nail on the head when he turned to me and said‚ "That was some of the best acoustic music I've ever seen." It transcended the notion of two guys with acoustic guitars‚ singing songs. And once the band plugged in‚ it rocked. Really‚ really loud when it was supposed be.
Davies and his band worked their way through a bunch of songs‚ some of the best being the ones off his latest album‚ Working Man's Café‚ especially "Vietnam Cowboys‚" "Morphine Song" and the album's title track. And even though he worked his way through hits -- "Come Dancing‚" "Low Budget" and "You Really Got Me Now" -- like everyone expected‚ nothing about this performance felt nostalgic.
It was one of those shows that came at the perfect time‚ like a lot of the best live music experiences‚ ones that stop and give you a blast of inspiration to put things in perspective. It was the type of show that makes you leave saying‚ "I needed that -- glad I didn't miss it."
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