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June 12, 2011 6:52 pm

Ray Davies’ Meltdown, Southbank Centre, London

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“Every time I mention the word ‘Kinks’, I fine myself 5p,” remarked Ray Davies early in the concert. He owed about 40p by the end but – on the opening night of his Meltdown festival – fans would have to wait for the most wanted of his imperishable 1960s hits. Two hours later, they were bopping in the aisles to “Lola” et al.

Seated on a stool, Davies, 67 this month, began in acoustic mode –
the singer-songwriting genius as social-club codger. He looked spry enough after a recent health scare (blood clots on the lungs, reportedly) but his singing voice has become reedier and parched. And his relentless jollying along, pausing for the audience to grab a line or four, took on the desperate enthusiasm of music-and-movement at a care home. An image perhaps not far from his own mind when he quipped “dedicated, not medicated”, during
“A Dedicated Follower of Fashion”.

Yet while his best songs might be old, they have great genes. The ragtime jauntiness of “Sunny Afternoon” went back to New Orleans and “A Well-Respected Man” was as sharp on English class absurdities as Noël Coward. There’s no getting away from it, though: “All Day and All of the Night” must now sound like a Viagra anthem for this crowd.

Davies’s banter was amiable but it flirted with self-indulgence. At one point, he read solemnly from his “unauthorised autobiography”, X-Ray. Still, his peers murmured their assent, and it was his party. Optimists had wondered whether Dave Davies, he of the crunchy riffs that anticipated punk and even metal, would join his elder brother on stage. No such luck, although Ray paid a tribute to Dave when introducing “You Really Got Me”, the rowdiest track of the encore. Whether in a duo or the full band
set-up, Bill Shanley was tirelessly adept on lead guitar, his best work coming in the raga-infused “See My Friends” and the Hendrix-like outro of “Full Moon”.

“Waterloo Sunset” was rather rheumy-eyed in delivery. For all its swinging London references, however, it remains a timeless classic, evocative as ever. Thank you for the days, then. It’s just that nights like these show nobody is getting any younger.

Meltdown continues.

Ray Davies’ Meltdown

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