Ray Davies

Rialto Theatre, Wednesday, July 19

While he may once have rightfully earned a reputation as a chronic crank--albeit one with a tack-sharp sense of humor and keen eye for detail--Ray Davies seems to have lightened up a bit over the years, beginning with the release of his semi-fictional memoir X-Ray in 1995, and subsequent "Storyteller" tours (which inspired the VH1 series of the same name).

Backed by a four-piece band last week at the Rialto, he was clearly enjoying himself, all smiles and chatty anecdotes, before a mass of admirers 650 strong. But within the humorous asides--e.g., upon first hearing the Kinks' "All Day and All of the Night," a record company exec sniffed that the guitar sounded like a barking dog--there were themes he kept returning to. Davies was performing in support of his first proper solo album, the excellent Other People's Lives, and one of its songs, "Run Away From Time," became part of a reluctant mantra of sorts: "You can run away from time; you can run away from responsibility; but you cannot run away from your back catalog."

Thus, anyone expecting a Kinks greatest-hits set was sorely out of luck. Sure, for the KLPX listeners there were "You Really Got Me" and the aforementioned "All Day and All of the Night," plus a couple of slightly less totemic (or merely less anthemic?) Kinks hits such as "Where Have All the Good Times Gone?" and "Sunny Afternoon"; and for the faithful, "Apeman," "Village Green" and a rather moving "A Long Way From Home," which Davies dedicated to his brother Dave by explaining that it was "about leaving home too early, but never forgetting where you're from."

But it was the new material that made up the bulk of his set. Davies has always specialized in character sketches, and Other People's Lives' title should tell you that he hasn't strayed too far in that respect. But the songs from it are looser than the perfect three-minute pop gems Kinks fans are used to, and became looser still--and all the better for it--in a live setting. For example, the bluesy pop of "The Tourist," in which a punky guitar blast serves as a chorus as much as the middle eight does, was drawn into a truly engaging noise jam that stretched more than 10 minutes and never became indulgent.

Put it this way: Chances are, he didn't play many of your favorites; the remarkable thing is, you probably didn't care.

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