The Kinks - Orpheum Theater, Boston Mass.
December 4 & 5 1975
The Kinks weren't always known for professional concerts. They used to stumble drunkenly onstage and crash through their songs before an adoring but ever-dwindling Kinks cult. The concept albums of the '60s would get performed with stage actions that increased plot confusion. Apparently, Soap Opera and it's associated tour changed that; the story was clarified with audio-visual aids. But Soap Opera bypassed Boston, so the Schoolboys In Disgrace show was Boston's first chance to see a well-planned Kinks concert.
The first part of the set was a quick run-through of Kinkdom past. Ray leaped onstage (usually, he just clings to a mike stand for precarious support) and rocked his way through Soap Opera's "Starmaker" and "Rush Hour Blues." "Waterloo Sunset", resigned as ever, was next, then the obligatory Kinks slapstick; the audience singing along for "Lola" and Ray's beer-can-in-hand "Alcohol" preachments. "You Really Got Me," with Davie's vocals drooping lovingly offbeat, segued into a fast "All Day and All of the Night." Almost against his will, Ray led the audience in a verse of "Sunny Afternoon" before concluding the "hits" with "Celluloid Heroes." He seemed eager to get on with Schoolboys In Disgrace.
Schoolboys In Disgrace is Davies latest dramatization of the ordinary man - that victim of a system designed to generate colorless and uncomplaining workers. He has fabricated a connection between Schoolboys In Disgrace and his earlier Preservation (a larger work about power, money, and corruption) by alleging that Schoolboys represents the childhood of Mr. Flash. That device aids the stage show, since it gives a wizened, imprisoned Mr. Flash a part as reminiscing narrator. But Schoolboys could serve just as well as the childhood of Arthur from Davie's first (and best) full-blown concept album, or Norman from Soap Opera. Schoolboys is the story of an ordinary lad who accidentally knocks up his first love. For that disgraceful act, he is beaten publicly by a sadistic pedarastic headmaster. Thus, we are told, the lad realizes that there will always be "The Establishment" to keep him in his place. Whether this schoolboy would become evil developer Mr. Flash, Walter Mitty-ish Arthur, or normal Norman is an inquiry or Kinkophiles to mull. Schoolboys In Disgrace, at any rate, gives Davies a chance to simultaneously exploit and deflate nostalgia.
His target isn't exactly original. The English public-schools have been slagged elsewhere quite frequently. But Davies has always been a capable recycler of clichés; what may seem hackneyed elsewhere is charming and a bit tragic in Kinks music. No one but the Kinks could attempt a song like "The First Time We Fall In Love," which has a chord progression straight out of the 50's. Schoolboy sentiment gives Davies a wealth of ready-made emotions. "The happiest days of our lives" weren't, of course, but "we can only remember what we chose to remember." Davies doesn't completely spurn traditional bathos - he just hints at it's silliness.
The staging of Schoolboys In Disgrace used narration to fill in the plot, while a movie screen flashed song titles and occasional lyric, and film clips of the action. The drama carried over to the stage when the filmed costumes reappeared on band members. Narration was delicately overdone, providing humorous detachment that kept the songs in place. Naturally, Davies himself played most of the roles - the pained, innocent schoolboy; the nasty headmaster; old Mister Flash - with his lady vocalists adding bit parts and changing costumes to suit each song. For most of the show, Davies appeared in school uniform with short pants, knobby knees and all.
Like album, the show built from the scene-setting generalities of "School Days" and "The First Time We Fall In Love" to the specifics of young Mr. Flash's predicament. The ballads moved to the rocking climax of "I'm In Disgrace" (whose pounding chords should make it the next Kinks single) and the plaintive confession of "Headmaster." No one is more convincing than Ray Davies singing "I feel like an innocent victim." After a slow-motion beating, "The Last Assembly" and "No More Looking Back" finalized the necessary break with childhood. The encore of "Education" summed up the show with a music hall cheerfulness.
Davies has taken his own advice to heart ("no more living in the past," he sings his new material is his most vital and endearing) in years.
John Pareles, source and date unknown.