Four decades later, Davies remains on top

April 2, 2008


Four decades into one of the most extraordinary careers in rock history, at an age when many are content to rest on their laurels, 63-year-old Ray Davies is performing with the intensity of an artist who still has something to prove.

Much lauded by some critics and fans, I found Davies' "Storyteller" shows in the mid-'90s disappointing for their obsession with sweet nostalgia and the impression that this magnificent songwriter could not envision a future outside the Kinks, which came to an end in 1996.

Then, in 2004, Davies was shot by a mugger on the streets of New Orleans. Combined with his brother Dave's stroke, it was a frightening and painful reminder of the fragility of life.

Now the once and perhaps future Kink is touring behind his second solo album -- the powerful "Working Man's Cafe," which boasts several songs about his ordeal in the Crescent City -- and he seemed to have a new lease on life as he took the stage Tuesday before a devoted crowd at the Chicago Theatre.

"I don't want to live my life like everybody else," Davies sang in newly poignant words at the start of two hourlong sets.

Davies then proceeded to intersperse his old band's klassics -- "'Til the End of the Day," "20th Century Man," "Sunny Afternoon" -- with newer material from his solo albums that more than held its own in comparison, especially "After the Fall" from "Other People's Lives" (2006), the anti-globalization "Vietnam Cowboys" and the New Orleans-inspired "In a Moment."

Suffering does not necessarily lead to good art, and Davies could just as well have come out of his misfortunes determined to cash in while he still can. Instead, he's performing again at the peak of his powers -- as much of an inspiration now as he was during the British Invasion 44 years ago.