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Live review: Ray Davies at the Orpheum Theatre

November 16, 2009 | 11:32 am

The Kinks frontman reinterprets his life's work, with the help of the Vox Society Choir, in an engaging two-hour show.


Ray Davies has learned to embrace his long season of reinvention. In recent years, the Kinks frontman has lamented the indefinite hiatus of the band he led for decades, but as of late he's responded with renewed energy and ambition unknown to many of his surviving contemporaries from rock's original British Invasion. 

In 2008, he released a moving and at times autobiographical solo album, "Working Man's Café"; this year, he began reinterpreting his life's work with a large choir on the just-released "The Kinks Choral Collection." He brought all that to the Orpheum Theatre on Saturday, equally engaged when singing of dreams and regret to acoustic guitar as he was while soaring with a band and the 29-voice Vox Society Choir. 

The two-hour concert opened with an acoustic set performed by Davies and guitarist Bill Shanley, an intimate format suited to the emotional twists and literary turns of the Kinks singer-songwriter. His voice was in exceptional shape, wailing and wondering from quiet passages to bursts of anger, passing through the Kinks' "Apeman" and the life experiences recalled on last year's "In a Moment." 

Davies playfully introduced the Kinks classic "Dedicated Follower of Fashion" as an "English folk song." When the fan singalong was not as energetic as he'd like, Davies smiled and urged them on: "This is Ray. I'm your friend!"

Soon, he was strumming "Autumn Almanac," a very British pop tune from 1967, when he stopped to ask, "You want to hear this?" The cheers he got in response were no surprise and suggested a large contingent of hard-core Kinks fanatics as hungry for rarities as for the hits. 

Davies brought out the rest of his band, including latter-day Kinks keyboardist Ian Gibbons. Shanley immediately ignited some country rock flavor on "Vietnam Cowboys" as Davies sang of culture clash and economic shifts here and abroad: "Hot Jacuzzi in Taiwan / With empty factories in Birmingham / Now it's sweatshops in Hong Kong." 

After a 15-minute intermission, Davies was joined by the choir, opening with songs from the Kinks' 1969 concept album, "Arthur (Or the Decline and Fall of the British Empire)." The added voices soared with startling waves of sound and warmth on "Shangri-La," even if the choir seemed a little unnecessary on "Victoria," a song already full of inherent richness and power. 

Elsewhere, the singers added emotional weight to the material, including a gorgeous "Waterloo Sunset" and a suite of songs from "The Village Green Preservation Society." There were hints of heavenly connections as high voices contrasted with bass vocals and Davies' gentle near-whisper of regret on "See My Friends." 

At age 65, Davies was still searching for those moments, approaching his history as an artist less interested in easy nostalgia than in taking his music in surprising directions. There's no telling what he might do next.

--Steve Appleford

Photo credit: Ringo H.W. Chiu / For the Los Angeles Times