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A well-respected man: Ray Davies at the Egg.

Photo: Martin Benjamin

Top of the Pops

By Paul Rapp

Ray Davies

The Egg, Nov. 23

Ray Davies comes from that strange time when rock stars were skinny, wore tight pants, and were elegantly androgynous enough to be dangerous. Free of ironic facial hair, ironic eyeglasses, and ironic clothing. When rock stars were artists, wrote great songs, worked the crowd, and cared. While most of his ilk have descended into self-parody or sad pandering, or work the sansa-belt retirement circuit, Davies still rocks it. He’s still the best.

Monday’s show, before a packed house, was a curated selection from Davies’ staggering catalog, picked to satiate the casual listener as well as the die-hard fan. The set leaned heavily on ’60s and early-’70s Kinks material and Davies’ excellent recent solo work, and all but ignored the ’70s theatrical and the ’80s arena-rock stuff. It was an endearing, heart-melting show; and there were enough great songs left unplayed to populate at least two more.

Davies laid the gauntlet down from the git, opening with seated acoustic versions of “I Need You” and “I’m Not Like Everybody Else,” two non-singles from the ’60s, which, like much of the Kinks’ early work, have grown in power and significance through the decades. For the better part of an hour, he remained seated, dropping nuggets like “Waterloo Sunset” and “Better Things,” and then the band joined him for “Celluloid Heroes,” for my money one of the best songs written about anything ever. The song sparkled; then things took off.

The remainder of the show went from delicate (the ultra-obscure “Moments” from the Percy soundtrack) to as gloriously loud and bombastic as anything I’ve seen at the Egg (“Till the End of the Day,” “Where Have All the Good Times Gone,” and the show-closing “Twentieth Century Man”). Davies was in terrific voice, hysterical between songs, and, at 65, ever the rock & roll trooper. The band were spectacular, with drummer Damon Wilson taking no prisoners and guitarist Bill Shanley ranging from Knopfler-esque sweetness to Dave Davies-like crunch.

The long, long encore ramped it up even more. We even got a little “Banana Boat Song.” But the moment came with the elegiac “Days,” a 1968 single that didn’t come close to charting here. First verse, sweet a cappella; second verse, quiet acoustic. Just as the song appeared to be over, Davies started banging on his guitar and the band simply landed, power- ballad-style, with Davies thanking us: “Thank you for the days, those endless days, those sacred days you gave me.” It’s been years since I’ve been this devastated at a concert.

Which brings us to brother Dave. Ray touchingly brought him up at least four times during the show; in some ways the show was one long plea to Dave Davies. Ray wants his band back. For the love of god, Dave, bury the hatchet and grant his wish.

Upstate, Plugged

Meat Puppets, Kirkwood Dellinger, Complicated Shirt

Valentine’s, Nov. 20

The Meat Puppets are many things to many people: originators of cowpunk to some, progenitors of alterna-nation to others, one-hit wonders to most of the musically bereft. Hailing from the peyote-vision wastes of Arizona, Curt and Cris Kirkwood have always pursued their own wayward vision, reaching heights of lysergic glory, other times bottoming out in rank despair. From the first note to the last, the sense of appreciation from the sizable crowd last Friday night at Valentine’s was palpable—first, for deigning to visit the region after some 20-plus years away, but most importantly, for not fading away completely. After plugging in and immediately rattling the rafters, it was clear the guys came to play, the way seasoned jazzers might—with a passion and honesty that is going to have its way regardless of what anyone else thinks, even the players themselves.

Which is easy when you’ve put in the hard work of writing the songs. Right away they got into a deluxe hard-rock version of “Oh Me,” then it was off to some Ulmer-esque excursions from Curt, the sound emanating from Cris’ bass amp incredibly indistinct but thudding in the chest with a comforting regularity and rightness. They have Doug Sahm’s son Shandon back in the band, an Iggy Pop-looking dude who plays with no finesse but lots of power and chutzpah, actually bringing the elephant swing of Curt’s beloved Stooges to the Meat Puppets mix, making the swamp rock that much cooler for its similarity to garage rock in its infancy.

The Puppets have always been known as one of the first postpunk bands to own up to a Grateful Dead jones. I’ve never heard the connection myself, but I do know that on the other side of the jam continuum, Phish must have picked up a few moves from these boys, the breakneck vocals and nimble picking of the crowd favorite “Sam” being the most obvious example on this night. “Up on the Sun” was stretched to the breaking point, Curt’s “chikka-chikka” pick shenanigans and the kaleidoscopic tussle of the bass and drums taking things way back home to some gamelan-type hustle that then morphed into Jimi Hendrix and Sonic Youth battling it out on Mount Kailash. “Light,” from 1989’s Monsters, with its ragged but right harmonies, was for me the best song of the night. From there on out, covers of Freddy Fender’s “Wasted Days, Wasted Nights” and a turn through the Jimmy Driftwood classic “Tennessee Stud” were fun as tributes to the twangy sound that lies at the heart of almost every Kirkwood number. Yes, they did end up by playing their “hit,” but it was the more obscure selections and expansive jams that made this one of the best all-out rock shows I’ve seen at Valentines in quite a while.

Whatever talent displayed by opening band Kirkwood Dellinger was overshadowed by the petulance put on display by the band’s leader, Elmo (son of Curt) Kirkwood. One of the dangers of even rock semistardom is that your kids are going to feel they are owed their own shot in the ring. A much better fit for an opening band was Albany’s own Complicated Shirt. Drew Benton’s churning, detuned anthems of irritation and fury are always compelling, his sound and aesthetic akin to bands like the Flesh Eaters and the Germs, two punk bands who were an inspiration to the Meat Puppets themselves back in the day. The more things change . . .

—Mike Hotter

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