Ray Davie's career as an acoustic performer was brief and inglorious. At 16, he played his first coffeehouse gig; as he sang and strummed, a patron threw up all over him. End of career. In the 31 years since, Davies put his spattered past behind him, becoming one of rock 'n' roll's most witty, erudite songsmiths, and not coincidentally, the frontman of the Kinks, the band he's shared with his guitarist brother Dave since 1964.
It took the safety of a high stage - and a good cause; the fight against Tay-Sachs disease - to lure an acoustic-guitar-fitted Davies out in public again. But for the first time since that digestive disaster, Ray, joined by Dave, sidled onto the boards sans band. Ray raised his beer bottle like Lady Liberty's torch, and both brothers lit into "Low Budget," easily cajoling the Depression-pinched, half-filled Boston Garden crowd to their feet as Dave slipped nimbly through guttural blues licks.
Suddenly, it was 1971: Women screamed, so did Ray as he waved the bottle over his head and dribbled spats of foam on his thinning-but-impressive pompadour. A quick slug of brew and they launched into "Alcohol," a Kinks staple from Muswell Hillbillies, then turned sharply into "Dedicated Follower of Fashion," pounding out sloppy chords on their Ovations like garage-rock louts - which they still are, at heart.
Ray explained they'd just recorded their late-60's ballad "Days" for a five-song EP, Did Ya' , on their new label Sony, which in March will release the album the Kinks are completing in London. Keeping the playing simple, the brothers brought their trademark uneven harmonies to the fore for Days , A Well-Respected Man and Celluloid Heroes, the lyrics traveling from sentimental to skewering and back. "It's a celebration; let's hear it for Bill Graham," Ray said cryptically before breaking into Apeman.
Like Dylan before them, going electric was inevitable. Dave cracked a crocodile smile as he was handed a black Stratocaster and plugged into a dirty little MESA/boogie amp, spanking out the opening chords of 1977's Sleepwalker. Ray dropped his guitar to lead the sing-along, bounding through the song's finish and striking up a call-and-response of "WAY-O" that somehow became Lola.
Damned if Dave's guitar didn't sound like the whole band - whoops - up went the curtain and there were the Smithereens, pounding out the goods and leaping around with the brothers Davies until Dave kicked into a power-strumming Big Rock Finish. The house roared; Dave grinned crookedly and ripped into two of rock's most recognizable chords; the G-A into to You Really Got Me. The Smithereens and Kinks played as if they'd almost rehearsed, bashing along with raggedy abandon while Ray pogo'd behind his microphone. They ended in a sweat, Dave splay-legged and nearly sprawled in front of the drum kit, the Smithereens wearing poker-hand smirks.
When Smitereens bassist Mike Mesaros followed Ray and Dave, his eyes were shiny with tears. "That was like playing baseball with Mickey Mantle," he said.
Musician Magazine - February, 1992