Review by Peter Grainger
Photography by Rodney Gitzel
Of the dizzying array of stage personae he has presented over the decades, Davies' portrayal of the Storyteller in The 20th Century Man is perhaps the truest of them all. Maybe it's because of the heavy-duty reminiscing Davies must have endured writing his excellent autobiography, X-Ray; or because the Kinks have finally broken up; or maybe it's simply the maturity of middle-age wearing through. For whatever reason, Davies is no longer hiding behind a mask.
The show began in London, where Davies returned after nearly 20 years of living in New York City, to put together the richly stitched details of the Kinks' rise to pop stardom that make up X-Ray. Although Davies did read the odd passage from X-Ray, most of the show was seemingly off-the-cuff anecdotes, told as if you were sitting in a Muswell Hill Pub, sharing a pint or two with the king Kink.
Setting the scene with "Victoria" and "20th Century Man," two of the Kinks' lesser-known classics, Davies won over the crowd early by suggesting he was not from Surrey -- B.C., that is -- then proudly stating he was a Londoner, before launching into "London," a recent tribute. With a chiming 60's pop guitar sound courtesy of a guy introduced as "Pete," the only other musician on stage, Davies sang the first of a few new songs written for the show. Jamming in as many London references as he could muster in three minutes, and name dropping famous Londoners like the Kray twins, Davies painted a punchy portrait of the place he calls home. It was almost as achingly transcendent as the even more achingly transcendent "Waterloo Sunset," which came, naturally enough, at the end of this story-cum-concert.
Over the course of nearly three hours, Davies told the Kinks' story, or at least his version (you can consult Johnny Rogan's painstakingly researched unauthorized Kinks biography, The Sound and the Fury, for yet another version). It was in the Davies' family frontroom where little Ray sang the dancehall ditties of the day with Mum, Dad, and his five sisters, before dastardly brother Dave or rock and roll had arrived. Davies was steeped like so many tea bags in all things Olde-and-English, bashing away on an upright piano, singing sentimental songs, or imitating his Dad, whose party favourite was a slurringly-stout-soaked rendition of Cab Calloway's "Minnie the Moocher."
Davies poked fun throughout at his brother Dave, their relationship giving new meaning to the term "sibling rivalry." "Dave plays guitar the way he talks: 'Oww-Wah-Owww-OO-Ahh!'" And how about that trademark Kinks' sound discovered by Dave? He perforated his speakers with Mum's knitting needles and then played revved-up rip-offs of Leadbelly, Big Bill Broonzy, and later, Chuck Berry, through the dreaded little green amp Ray dubbed the "Fart Box."
With humour and wit equal to any Kinks song, Davies imitated drummer Mick Avory, brother Dave, limp-wristed upper class managers Collins and Wace, and the cigar-chomping Cockney Larry Page. These real-life characters kept reappearing as Davies led us through the hits ("Tired of Waiting for You," "Well-Respected Man," and "Lola") and equally impressive misses ("See My Friends," "Stop Your Sobbing," and "Days").
What this solo tour de force proved is that Davies can stand shoulder-to-shoulder with his contemporaries: he's less obtuse in his writing than Pete Townshend, as piercing as Jagger and Richards on a good day, and as direct and melodic as Lennon and McCartney. Britpop owes him a colossal debt. Roll those songs in a laugh-a-minute-let's-hear it for the underdog-standup routine and you've got one of the best entertainments to be seen in Vancouver since -- well, since the last time the Kinks played here.
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