Ray Davies of Kinks fame opened the North American leg of his current tour at the historic Warfield Theater in San Francisco last night. I've seen Ray solo at least three times now, and the Kinks countless times since 1976 (Schoolboys in Disgrace tour), and last night's show ranked among the best Ray concert experiences ever, and certainly the best for many, many years.
This was not the mellow but charming Ray Davies Storyteller show we've enjoyed and gotten used to over his last several American visits (or, at least, the ones I've caught). This was a real Rock 'n' Roll show that rivaled seeing the Kinks in the late 1970s (Low Budget/Give he People What They Want era), just before their last surge of early 80's popularity took them out of the mid-sized theaters and put them into arena territory.
The first set opened up with Ray alone on stage, Stratocaster in hand, playing the opening verse of I'm Not Like Everybody Else. By the end of that song the entire four-piece backing band is on stage with him and you know you've made a very wise ticket purchase decision. A handful of other early Kinks classics follow before alternating between Kinks favorites and newer songs from Other People's Lives (2006) and the title track of the recently released Working Man's Cafe.
The second set opened looking more like the previous tours, with Ray on a stool with an acoustic guitar, music stand nearby, and only the lead guitarist (in a chair) to accompany him, treating us to This is Where I Belong. It didn't take long, however, for the rest of the band to join them, and for the stool, chair, and music stand to be taken away. While Ray still has a magic way of connecting to an audience and telling stories about the songs, there would be no readings from the big book of X-Ray on this tour. This set included more material from the new album along with some Kinks gems.
Encores included Days like you've never heard before, Lola, and the expanded version of You Really Got Me. The audience (seeming sold out?) remained in place and on their feet cheering for quite some time after the house lights came up before reluctantly exiting the theater.
For those keeping score, I'd estimate about 40% Kinks songs and 30% each from Other People's Lives and Working Man's Cafe. Of course, with a catalog that now spans 45 years (Forty-Five Years!!!), there were many favorites that did not make the set list and entire eras were left out completely.
If you have the chance to catch Ray on this tour, don't think twice, just buy the ticket. And, in case I didn't make this clear enough, the new album is great too.
Other details: Opening band, Everest, (acoustic trio) was very good. Their first album comes out on May 6. If you are going to a show at the Warfield, don't eat first. Just get there early and order the Chicken Burrito. It's excellent.