"X-Ray" is both the title of Ray Davies' self-penned "unofficial autobiography" and one of his more recent songs. It's also a good description of the show he played before a standing-room crowd at the Tralf on Monday night.
The skeleton of his impressive work as songwriter for the Kinks was there, bones like "You Really Got Me," "Lola" and "20th Century Man."
But the bones, which at times were merely snippets of songs and lyrics, would have seemed unconnected without the flesh Davies fabricated with his engaging recollections of the energy and emotion that led to their creation.
The format is a familiar one for aging rockers -- in fact VH1 liked it so much, the music video channel borrowed it for its "Storyteller" series -- but Davies pioneered its use after releasing his book in 1995.
Backed only by guitarist Pete Mathison, Davies stood at center stage with an electric acoustic guitar, a beaten black book that he would occasionally read from and a catalog of memories wryly delivered in his working-class London accent.
At times the show was disjointed. Davies slowed down the rocker "Victoria," played the first verse, introduced Mathison, then strummed the chords to one of the Kinks' biggest hits, "Lola."
Just as the crowd started singing the stuttering chorus, Davies jumped back to "Victoria," his whimsical tribute to England's glorious empire at the turn of the last century and the queen who presided over it.
He then began reading from the book, telling the crowd that "mediocrity rises. Being a trifle mediocre, I rose."
The crowd laughed heartily, at which point Davies mock-chided them. "You're not supposed to laugh at that . . . but it is Buffalo," he said, drawing an even bigger reaction.
As he did with several other songs, including "Set Me Free" and "Tired of Waiting," Davies began "20th Century Man" in the middle, with the bridge, "I was born in a welfare state/ruled by bureaucracy/controlled by civil servants/and people dressed in gray."
It helped personalize a song that is about rejecting the "advances" of the last century, "the age of insanity" as Davies referred to it when he wrote the song in 1970. The song's reference to "napalm, hydrogen bombs, biological warfare" was chilling, given the current environment.
Then Davies began telling his story; about the joy of being the first boy in a family of six girls, and the sting of no longer being at the center of his sisters' existence when younger brother Dave came along three years later.
It was the beginning of the well-documented love-hate relationship between Dave, whose frantic lead guitar helped define the Kinks' sound, and Ray, the band's brains.
Davies recalled the magic that took place so frequently in the front room of his home when he was growing up: his father's boozy renditions of "Minnie the Moocher," the enthralling American music that came from the phonograph, and ultimately, his writing of "You Really Got Me," the crunching anthem that swept the Kinks to stardom in the British Invasion of the mid-1960s.
The room also had its somber moments, he said, introducing the doleful "See My Friends" with a story about the sadness he saw as relatives mourned the death of his 30-year-old sister.
After talking about how the Kinks got started, Davies finally broke into "You Really Got Me." Just as the evening was gaining steam, though, the show ended, save for an encore comprised of "Holiday," "Where Have All The Good Times Gone" and the tranquil "Waterloo Sunset."
The crowd, the vast majority of whom knew the lyrics to almost all of the songs, didn't seem disappointed. They were too busy reveling in the revelations from the King of the Kinks.
Legendary songwriter for the Kinks.
Monday night in the Tralf.