Let's face it: Kinks fandom isn't a faint-hearted pursuit. I learned as much in the spring of 1997, when I interviewed founding guitarist Dave Davies for an extended cover story in DISCoveries magazine -- which focused on Kink, his autobiography of the time, but also covered what he'd done lately with the band.
The catch? He was only available on my lunch hour. Not only that, I had to cover for someone else -- so there I sat at my desk, talking on the phone with the man whose riff launched so many other bands (altogether now: 1-2-3-4, "You Really Got Me" starts something like this: DAH-DA-DA-DA-DAH, DAH-DA-DA-DA-DAH), while the other resident Kinks fan in our office literally hovered near my ear, trying to hear the discussion.
Needless to say, all concerned had a grand time. It also helped that my bosses were on vacation.
Few outfits in rock are so influential, or so underrated, yet command such a dedicated fanbase. The band has remained on hiatus since 1996, following its final show in Oslo, Norway. However, the absence of any official breakup announcement hasn't slowed the interest, let alone the never-ending stream of will-they-or-won't-they reform stories that continue to pop up lately (mostly in the UK, but we've seen a fair amount of them Stateside, as well).
In hindsight, however, the path to Ray and Dave's separate creative lives began 35 years ago. In July 1980, Dave stepped away from the group with his first solo album, AFLI-3603 -- so named, apparently, because he couldn't think of a proper title -- on which he played all the instruments (except four tracks that feature Nick Trevisick and Ron Lawrence on bass and drums, respectively).
I'd just gotten into the Kinks via Misfits (on the strength of a thumbs-up from People magazine, of all places), so how could I miss this one? I naturally went out and got my hands on AFLI-3603 right away, and -- like just about everyone else who did -- wasn't disappointed. Then and now, it's one of my all-time favorite records.
The silver-and-black futuristic sleeve art set the right tone, as did the cover -- which featured a bar code replacing its reluctant star's face.(Rolling Stone undoubtedly had this bit of social commentary in mind in reviewing the album as "howling anarchic couplets that rail against big government, 'science and money,' and other instruments of oppression.") And that's before we got to the contents. This record has it all, from thunderous heavy rock blasts ("Where Do You Come From," "In You I Believe," "Move Over"), to pointed commentary ("Doing The Best For You"), glistening pop-rock ("Imaginations Real"), and affecting ballads ("Run," "Visionary Dreamer"). Honestly, I can't think of a single track that I dislike: for anyone who listened, AFLI-3603 made an eloquent case for Dave Davies as the rock 'n' roll heart of the Kinks.
Those same qualities have characterized subsequent efforts, like Bug (2002) and I Will Be Me (2014), though Dave's stroke in the summer of 2004 naturally left his creative future open to speculation. By the summer of 2008, however, he'd recovered sufficiently to walk, talk and play guitar -- so, naturally, when Dave's latest solo tour called at City WInery (Chicago, IL, 11/13/14), I had to drop everything and make my way down there.
The tour coincided with the Kinks' 50th anniversary, which passed without a flicker of movement on those will-they-or-won't-they-reunite stories -- and, naturally, set much of the night's agenda. Of course, we got standards like "All Day (And All Of The Night)," "Dead End Street," "The Death Of A Clown," "Tired Of Waiting," and "Where Have All The Good Times Gone" -- could any Kink, past or present, leave a venue alive without playing those songs?, I asked myself -- delivered with the scrappy, take-no-prisoners authority, as only someone like Dave Davies can dish out.
Mind you, there are limits. A couple times, Dave asked if we had any requests, which prompted a woman sitting near Don and I to shout for "Come Dancing"...even to the point of humming the opening riff. "I don't think we're gonna get that one," I laughed to myself.
Overall, Dave's playing seemed robust and self-assured; I've been asked numerous times about that issue, but he's definitely back up to par...on the same level, certainly, from the last time I saw him (House Of Blues, Chicago, 1997). His voice sounded darker, huskier -- and a bit strangled, at times -- which is only to be expected, after his health struggles of 2004, but also suits the world-weariness of many Kinks songs, as well.
For me, the highlights came from hearing such lesser-aired prizes as "Creeping Jean," "Suzannah's Still Alive" -- an athem to a lost love, which Dave explains at greater length in his book -- and "Strangers," whose distinctive opening and closing drum intro/outro emerged after an extended keyboard solo. It's a haunting song that, once you hear it, isn't easily forgotten ("Where you going to, I don't mind/I've killed my world, and I've killed my time").
"Strangers" is also one of two Dave contributions to the clunkily-titled Lola Versus Powerman And The Moneygoround, Part I (1970) -- the album that gave us "Lola," and kicked off the Koncept Era, as it's often called.
Dave and company also treated the Winery crowd to an extended take on "See My Friends," which he dedicated to those no longer among us: "This song is for all absent friends, dear, departed loved ones, and those that may be in the spirit world." It's a song that also preceded the raga-rock boom that swept the decade, even if the Kinks don't necessarily reap the credit...but still sounds as fresh and relevant as it did at the time.
Now and then, Dave sneaked in the odd later-period song -- including "Living On A Thin Line," whose blast against the 1 percent is as timely as ever, sadly -- and "The King Of Karaoke," from I Wll Be Me, which gave his partner, Rebecca Wilson, a chance to strut her stuff onstage.
He did play "Little Green Amp," which I missed, unfortunately (having consulted setlist.fm to check that inclusion) -- but it's one of I Will Be Me's major highlights. The lyrics recall Dave's combustive start as a musician, over a riff that reworks "You Really Got Me" to cunning effect -- I laughed at the audacity, myself, when I first heard it. Presumably, we'll hearmore of these newer songs when Dave makes it back to town.
Fittingly enough, the show closed with the one-two punch of "I'm Not Like Everybody Else," and "You Really Got Me." Like many of those classic early songs, they've been covered by countless outfits -- even posi-core bands like Seven Seconds, if I recall correctly, have taken a stab at "Everybody Else," which summarizes Dave's artistic posture as well as any interview: "Do everything that you want me to/There's just one thing I will say to you..."
Thirty-five years ago, the notion of dueling Davies albums and tours would have sounded far-fetched. The Kinks roadshow seemed ready to roll indefinitely, for as long as audiences seemed willing to hear it, while Dave -- apart from a handful of singles, and the odd burst of songwriting contributions to the group's output -- seemed reluctant to go beyond those confines.
Indeed, as Ray himself once noted in Hit Parader magazine, Dave seemed more focused on capturing the technical side of the group's music at Konk than putting himself forward as a songwriter: "He's started recording, but I might even have to get a contract with him and says he's got to deliver a [solo] album. It may be the only way he's going to record is at gunpoint."
Judging by the guitar blasts that powered those last two songs across the finish line, Dave isn't feeling all that tentative or reluctant anymore...and he's all the better for it. So are we.