Ray Davies, Royal Albert Hall, London; Tori Amos, Royal Albert Hall, London

The fans' enthusiasm shows no sign of flagging, but despite his 'unforced genius', The Kinks' lead singer should pay closer attention to his footwear

Simon Price
Sunday 07 October 2012 01:31
Ray Davies revisits his past at the Albert Hall
Ray Davies revisits his past at the Albert Hall

He is a man whose reputation precedes him. But if there's any truth in the rumours that Ray Davies is a prickly curmudgeon in person, there's none of that tonight as he treats the grand old Kensington venue that he refers to as "The Cake" to yet another milking of his back catalogue.

In recent years, he's re-recorded the most famous of The Kinks' canon twice, once with a choir and once with a cast of celebrity guests. There can't be many gimmicks left, but presumably he's already in the studio figuring out how to sing "You Really Got Me" backwards, translating "Days" into Klingon, and wondering if "Come Dancing" would benefit from putting a womp on it.

Meanwhile, he's playing it completely straight. Sitting on a stool next to a man called Bill, a mug of tea in his drink-holder, he strums through the classics with an easy charm, all raised eyebrows ("Tell me now, do you want me here to stay?", he twinkles in the opening number), self-deprecating interjections ("If I live to 99 ... it's not too far!" he jokes in "Autumn Almanac") and comedy impressions (a brilliantly awful Johnny Cash in "Dedicated Follower of Fashion").

A gap-toothed, receding bogbrush in a crisp black suit and Chelsea boots, he reminds us of what we already knew: that his is an unforced kind of genius. For an eight-year golden patch, peerlessly perfect songs poured out of him, as addictive melodically as they were acutely observed. And, as the relatively new "In a Moment" shows, they continue to trickle.

Davies's politics were always difficult to pin down. "Sunny Afternoon" can be read as an ungracious moan about the progressive fiscal policies of the Wilson government, but it's executed with more charm and ironic distance than The Beatles' whining "Taxman". Sometimes, on "20th Century Man" for example, he sounds like a free-market libertarian: "I was born in a welfare state/Ruled by bureaucracy/Controlled by civil servants/And people dressed in grey/Got no privacy, got no liberty/Cos the 20th-century people/Took it all away from me." But the sublimely mournful "Dead End Street" is, if anything, a song of the left.

Midway through it, a band joins in, and the show goes from acoustic to electric. Regrettably, Davies reacts by changing into trainers. No one needs to see a Sixties icon in Reeboks. "End of the Day" prompts an outbreak of dancing in the stalls, including one hardcore lunatic who has brought his own ukulele.

Then something even funnier happens. Davies flags up "Waterloo Sunset" by announcing a guest who had earlier harassed him to sing a duet, without a rehearsal. On walks Paul Weller, who misses most of the high notes and fluffs his cues. Frankly, it's a shambles. As Weller waves goodbye, Davies's band play him off with what I take to be a mocking snatch of "David Watts", as if to clarify who's the daddy. Davies says, "How do you follow that?!", and answers his own question by aggressively strumming the opening chords to "Lola". Once that song has finished, Davies – perhaps sensing he's short-changed us – says, "OK, let's pick that up again", and proceeds to play the last couple of minutes of "Waterloo Sunset" again, properly this time.

After a lull, as he gets back on the stool for some Muswell Hillbillies material, the need for the trainers becomes apparent, as the 68-year-old starts pogoing and star-jumping through the "All Day and All of the Night". If this is milking it, give that man a bucket to go with the stool.

Another artist revisiting her past in "The Cake" is Tori Amos. For most of her career, Amos has had a strained relationship with classical music. After all, getting kicked out of the Peabody Conservatoire at 11 for insisting on doing things her way is part of her self-created story. But, on her current album Gold Dust and the accompanying tour, she has recreated 14 of her best-known songs with the help of Metropole Orkest from the Netherlands, whose conductor, Vince Mendoza, has previous for this sort of thing: he's won Grammys for three Joni Mitchell albums.

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Now 49, her specs the only concession to middle age, Amos remains an intensely physical performer, tossing flame-red hair as she switches between pianos, operating the pedals in six-inch scarlet heels, and slamming the lid as percussion.

One song is notable by its absence. Speaking of the decision not to give "Cornflake Girl" the orchestral treament, she has explained that "the architecture doesn't suit it". She refers, of course, to the structure of the song, not the building she's playing in. Something tells me "The Cake" wouldn't have cared.

Critic's choice

Bloc Party, back together after a three-year hiatus, promote their fourth album, the cunningly entitled Four, with a UK tour beginning at the Academy, Newcastle (Fri) and Academy, Leeds (Sat). Meanwhile, legendary Mott the Hoople leader Ian Hunter stands up for all the old dudes at the Tyne Theatre, Newcastle (Fri) and ABC, Glasgow (Sat).

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