By Mark Guarino
Magazine spreads in trendy magazines and corporate rock shows in sports arenas will tell you punk is now just fashion and pose, the facile combination of a generation that really, has nothing to complain about because they have everything they want at the touch of their iPhone.
Maybe that’s why, at the Chicago Theatre Tuesday, it was like an elixir witnessing a 63-year-old bloke named Ray Davies play a 43-year-old song and make it sound like the future. As his four-piece band punched up “Til the End of the Day,” Davies twisted around his microphone and gruffly barked the lyrics; the song — a blueprint for the punk revolution to come — stomped forward, refusing to back down once it got in your face and stayed there. A performance this rude, exciting and alive doesn’t come along every day.
A primer for Fallout Boy fans: Davies is the co-founder and lead songwriter of The Kinks, the British band that helped define punk’s aesthetic through guitar distortion, hooligan attitude and four decades of enduring songs that critiqued and lampooned British society with workingman’s anguish and literary flair.
Davies kept a low profile for most of the 1990’s until a gunshot wound in New Orleans in 2004 and two subsequent solo albums released one year apart catapulted him to news tickers and concert stages. The creative flood that followed a near-fatal attack strangely invigorated him at a level not reached by many of his generation. On Tuesday, Davies played for over two hours and 30 minutes. Even when the house music started and the house lights flickered on, he kept returning for more songs, more autographs, more chances to thank the crowd. He could not stop.
The show, in two sets, covered Kinks classics, less familiar gems plus reserved a generous amount of time for his newest songs that, while more fully textured, covered familiar topics he has always written about: sad neighborhood characters, bar flies trying to start new lives, cities with a fleeting sense of the past. An acoustic segment showcased most of these songs from “Workingman’s Café” (New West), a new collection that sounds especially wistful but always tuneful.
Yet the person singing them felt far from resigned. True to British music hall tradition, Davies delivered the songs with high charm and goofy bravado. Lampooning British tourists unaware of danger lurking around the corner (“The Tourist”), he clowned in a jacket made from the Union Jack. He continually coaxed the crowd to join him singing, clapping, dancing. Some jokes were old but refreshed by the delivery.
Although he referred to The Kinks as “the band I used to play with” — he gets charged a $10 fee if he says the name, he said — the band’s catalog was present. “Set Me Free” sounded slightly more psychedelic, “20th Century Man” particularly relevant to our hyper-linked, multi-tasked times.
With Dave Davies, his brother and famously contentious musical partner, currently skewering his brother on the Internet, The Kinks may never reunite. But Tuesday showed the songs will never disappear.