Wednesday, March 10, 2010
Rise, Bleary-Eyed, and Report: Ray Davies' Old-Time Singalong
Well, I spent last night in the company of the man himself and several hundred close friends: it's a theater I know well, being an old techie. It seats about 1500 people, and it wasn't full. Still, for a Tuesday night in the provinces, it was a respectable showing. But it was rather heavy in the I-used-to-be-a-rocker-but-now-I'm-a-shift-manager-but-I'm-going-to-wedge-myself-into-this-too-tight-t-shirt-and-get-drunk-in-public-anyway contingent: somewhat humorous, given that they were treating the local opera venue as though it were a shitty bar. Well, I guess they were paying opera prices to do it.
I went with my eldest brother, who is, in a very direct way, the reason for this blog: he schooled me from birth in the Beatles, the Stones, and the Kinks. Some of my earliest memories involve him and the music he played for me: for example, the first time I realized that people could share names is when I figured out--I couldn't have been more than 2 or 3--that my brother's name was Paul, and so was Paul McCartney's.
The opening act was The 88, a name which meant nothing to me until they happened across a song of theirs I actually knew, Coming Home. Paul tells me the song in some movie soundtrack, and they were good: energetic and tight and unswayed by the drunken impolite crowd.
But there's a special circle of hell for bad sound guys. It was muddy and low-endy, and not the band's fault at all. The low end was so overwhelming that the toms were a tactile experience: and we were halfway back. I can only imagine what the shift managers in the front felt. Musta bounced some of those women right out of their spanx.
But when Davies played: oh, it was a different matter altogether.
Part of that is just technical. The majority of the set was just he and Irish guitarist Bill Shanley, who does with a guitar what Neko Case does with a voice: you just kinda drop your jaw and watch. (Toward the end of the acoustic set, Shanley was playing some complicated picky thing, and I noticed that he was actually playing with a broken string, but damned if you could tell.) Davies switched off between two acoustic guitars; Shanley between an acoustic and an electric.
The bulk of the show was just the two of them: it appears to have been based on the Storytellers series--he read briefly from his book and told lots of background stories to the songs--but while the low-end issue was no real concern during the acoustic playing, it did grievously handicap the banter, which you had to strain to hear.
Davies played twenty-five songs, well over an hour of acoustic, and the audience was encouraged, expected, cajoled, to sing along, sent back to do it again if he wasn't pleased with the result. Not that anyone minded: most people were singing along anyway, but it was a little odd. I don't think I've ever been to a show where the performer quite so obviously expected that we ought to be that well-versed in his catalog. It worked: he had that crowd, so unruly for his openers, eating out of the palm of his hand.
And just as I assumed that he was finishing up, the upstage curtain opened, and there were The 88, and together they ripped through another five songs with a full band--and the same sound problems--but it was smoking.
Davies is a treasure--the fact that he's performing (even graciously dedicating songs to his brother ("Two Sisters") and the late Doug Fieger ("The Hard Way"). After all this time, it's no surprise that he's a consummate showman, possessing the rare gift of making even a crowd of drunk shift managers in the provinces feel that he connects with them. Verdict: quite a night.