Coming Out At Philharmonic Hall

The Kinks, who as every aging rock'n'roller knows, rank among the Beatles and the Stones in the pantheon of English pop stars, the Kinks who have been so top of it ever since the beginning without ever becoming superstars, the same Kinks who gave us "You Really Got Me", "Tired of Waiting", "Set Me Free", "Dedicated Follower of Fashion", "A Well Respected Man", "All Day and All of the Night," "Plastic Man", "Lola" and more recently "Apeman", those very same Kinks rocked the Philharmonic Hall last week with a one-night stand so pregnant with meaning it should have been filmed or taped for posterity. It was the kind of performance you would expect from Judy Garland , Hank Williams or Brian Jones. Only this time it was Raymond Douglas Davies, the guiding genius behind the Kinks, who showed us how some of us react to the Strum and Drang of contemporary civilization. It was more than a rock performance - more of a psycho-drama and a bit like a coming out party.

Ray Davies, who shares lead vocals with his brother Dave, did the coming out, although it looked for a few moments as if he might also come apart in the process. Ray is the group's heavy talent, the man responsible for most of their songs, and the co-author of a memorable television drama (not seen in this country) about a suburbanite named Arthur Morgan, the score of which was written by Ray and performed by the group. It became one of their best albums, "Arthur."

Waving his arms and wiggling his ass, Ray fluttered on stage to the delight of the audience, wearing a velvet suit and bow tie, horn rimmed glasses and pursed lips. He cooed into the microphone and carried on like a music hall performer trying to do Mick Jagger, Oscar Wilde, Ondine, and Ernie Kovacs Percy Dovetonsils all at the same time. It was very campy and it knocked out most of the audience, except for a few people with puzzled grins who didn't quite know how to react. Half-way through the first number it became obvious that Davies was very, very high on something more euphoric than audience feedback. In fact, he was having trouble standing up.

He managed to never miss a note, however, until midway through the third song, "Ape Man", which the audience joined in singing. Ray seemed deeply moved by the audience's response as they sang "I don't feel safe in this world no more / I don't wanna die in a nuclear war / I want to sail away to a distant shore / And make like an Apeman." Then he tottered and began falling backwards.

The audience realized it wasn't a gag when he reeled back, his eyes closed, picking up momentum as he backed up, closer and closer to a 12-foot high bank of speakers and amps. Brother Dave stepped aside, letting him pass, and Ray plunged into the speakers. He and the equipment went down in a great electronic squawk. An instant bummer. Everybody thought it was all over. People have come to expect the worst. Especially at rock concerts.

Ray went down, but not out. People ran from backstage and some of the audience clambered up to help and anguished stares turned to relieved moans as Davie's voice wafted over the PA system, singing "la-la-la la-la I'm an Apeman......" Too much.

"Listen" Ray said after the last chorus, "let's forget what this world did to us and just enjoy ourselves." The audience clapped for that. What else can you do?

Davies stayed on his feet for the remainder of the set, picking and singing through a string of oldies introducing the band and camping around, imitating Johnny Cash and lapsing into a rendering of "You Are My Sunshine." The audience sang along but quit after one chorus. It was up and down like that right to the end, when a medley of blasts from the pasts brought the remainder of the audience to their feet and prompted the stoking of many, many joints. A few people started coming up on stage now to shake hands with the band. Davies told everyone he loved them and the feeling was mutual and then the Kinks went off.

But they came back. For a rock'em, sock'em finale that brought the house down the aisles and up on stage, where they trampled Davie's guitar and milled around acting insane, while speakers thundered and cracked as cords were pulled from guitars and microphones were toppled. Quite a scene. A detachment of New York's finest finally appeared out of nowhere and shooed everyone off stage, and we all staggered home, minds blown again.

I was tempted to go backstage and give Raymond Douglas Davies a pep talk on responsibility, etc., but I shrugged it off. Later on I was told that when he came down Raymond Douglas agreed it was a bum trip and that he had some regrets. I hope so, I mean, there are enough bad trips going down these days. I don't have to go to a rock concert to find one.

Richard Nusser
The Village Voice - April 8, 1971