In her review of the new Rolling Stones concert film, Shine A Light, Salon’s Stephanie Zacharek writes, “Nearly everyone I know who has seen a recent Stones show comes back marveling at how much ‘energy’ Mick Jagger has. ‘He just keeps going!’ they say, as if ‘going’ were all that mattered, in performance or in life.” Or, as Sean Burns puts it in the Philadelphia Weekly, “If the movie is actually about anything, it’s about aging gracefully into a cuddly caricature of your former self.”
Ray Davies, at 63 (Jagger is barely one year older), seems to have hardly lost a step as well, and is in no danger of receding into caricature. Like Jagger, Davies keeps going and going and, unlike Jagger, never seems to have significantly lost his direction. A master songwriter and relentless showman, Davies has always had a knack for the chord change or lyrical turn that can snap you back into focus and cause you to rearrange your life. Also like Jagger, Davies, as both a member of the Kinks and a solo artist, has created music and toured the world for over 40 years. But unlike Jagger and the Stones, who have somehow become shorthand for rock n’ roll survival and excess, Ray Davies and the Kinks, despite a massive body of work that is the equal of any bands, have largely labored, often against their will, as part of the underground. When people marvel at the Rolling Stones and talk about their longevity like it’s somehow symbolic for the regenerative powers of rock in general, they aren’t necessarily wrong—just short-sighted.
Touring behind his second solo album, Working Man’s Cafe, Davies shows off jumps that are perfectly timed, a voice that is still strong, and new songs that continue to have as much to say about how to live life and the saving graces of rock n’ roll as his old ones. He manages an almost fifty-fifty split between Kinks material (“Low Budget”, “I’m Not Like Everybody Else”, “20th Century Man”, a particularly moving “Come Dancing”) and his solo material. (Is it even possible to imagine the Stones trying to incorporate anything more than a handful of songs from their post-Tattoo You work, let alone anything from Mick Jagger’s solo albums?) And although fans at the Tower tend to sit through the new songs, while they tend to stand for the Kinks material, they’re never restless and the show never drags. Davies’ new songs fit in almost seamlessly; “Imaginary Man” and “One More Time” respectively manage a soaring chorus and a sentimentality for the past (as well as the rapidly fading present) that could live comfortably on any Kinks record.
And there’s nothing rote about Davies bringing out “Tired of Waiting” or “You Really Got Me”. He seems to still have a deep love for the songs, the life they have afforded him, and what they continue to mean to his fans. (Can Mick Jagger possibly be feeling the same thing when he sings “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction” for the 11,000th time?) Introducing “All Day and All of the Night”, Davies says he received a call that day from his brother asking him, “If you’re going to play the song, please play it at the right tempo.” The question comes, Davies says, after the usual pleasantries, such as, “How are you, asshole?” Whether that’s true or he’s just playing to the audience, it hardly matters.
He calls for applause for his band almost a half dozen times; a far cry from a Boston performance in 2006 where he seemed to be two steps ahead of the band for the entire show and had no problems letting them know it. Tonight, he never comes off as condescending or anything less than fully enthused. “I’m playing music!” he shouts as he cuts off the house music to continue his second encore, which includes a rousing version of “Victoria”. Everything about his performance seems so genuinely warm and grateful that, when he includes a snippet of “This Is Where I Belong” during the night’s acoustic section, you’d be forgiven for believing that he’s making a point towards a larger truth meant just for his Philadelphia audience. Let’s see the Stones pull that off.
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