If Dave Davies saw the sign an audience member was holding aloft a few rows back from the stage during Davies’ set at the Bear’s Den on Saturday, he didn’t let on.
“Call your brother,” read the placard – an unassuming enough suggestion on the surface, but in truth, a quip that cuts to the quick of the paradox that has beset Davies and his brother, Ray (known as the Kinks, in better days) for nearly 50 years.
The siblings need each other to do their best work. And yet, they can hardly stand to be in the same city at the same time, let alone share the same stage.
Yes, the full house at the Bear’s Den seemed to be comprised wholly of Kinks fanatics, folks who would’ve probably preferred to be seeing Dave and Ray perform together as the Kinks, but would accept a strong Davies solo set as a consolation prize. And there’s the rub: Even when he’s out on his own, the younger Dave can’t avoid the shadow cast by big brother Ray.
Much like George Harrison must have felt as a strong songwriter working in the shadow of two of the finest tunesmiths of the 20th century in the form of Lennon and McCartney, so too have Dave’s compositions been overshadowed by the rather towering accomplishments of Ray.
Having invented power chords, amp distortion, and the wild, frantic post-blues guitar soloing style, Dave has plenty to be proud of on his own, however. And that fact is what Saturday’s show seemed intent on celebrating.
The set list, not surprisingly, consisted of a healthy portion of Kinks tunes of varying vintage. Peppered among these were well-chosen highlights from Davies’ own solo work, including a pair from his most recent effort, “I Will Be Me.” Even at the age of 66, Davies remains a formidable and often frenzied guitarist who enjoys playing at a blisteringly high volume. He gave his all throughout the set, a not inconsiderable accomplishment considering the fact that Davies suffered a serious stroke in 2004, and had to relearn his instrument through a difficult period of rehabilitation.
Opening, naturally, with the Kinks’ manifesto “I’m Not Like Everybody Else,” which even today comes across as a proto-punk masterpiece, Davies appeared relaxed and enthused, an attitude matched by the crowd.
But as the set moved forward, it became apparent that Davies had to struggle to hit the high vocal notes in many of the tunes, and that playing guitar in a manner of off-handed brilliance was no longer something he could do without significant effort.
Classics like “Tired of Waiting for You” and “Living on a Thin Line” were played with a roughshod precision by Davies’ band, in a manner much like the one perfected by the Kinks themselves. The former, with its lovely, languid, but physically demanding vocal melody, gave Davies a run for his money. But he persevered, investing added emotional resonance to the song in the process.
The rockers – a torrid “Little Green Amp,” a beautifully sloppy, crowd sing-along “Dead End Street” – seemed to come easier to Davies than the more reflective ballad pieces. Of these, several were performed in an absolutely heart-wrenching manner, among them the wistful lament “Young and Innocent Days,” a Ray Davies song that, in its original late-’60s recorded form, found Dave singing impossibly high vocal harmonies with his brother. The passage of time and inevitability of loss so achingly mourned in the song was granted even more poignancy by the way Dave struggled so valiantly to perform it.
Equally powerful, though for wholly different reasons, was another Kinks “klassic,” the Eastern-tinged “See My Friends,” which Davies turned into an epic jam, driven by some beautiful guitar soloing. This was Davies doing what he has always done best – adding rich layers of tension, drama, and release to songs his big brother wrote.
Will Davies take the advice offered by the Bear’s Den audience member and call his brother, possibly sealing the deal on the rumor that the Kinks will reform to celebrate what will be their 50th anniversary in 2014? Who knows. But if it never happens, seeing Dave Davies on his own will remain a worthwhile endeavor.