Ray Davies has always been one of rock’s forgotten heroes. Yes, he’s in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, and he’s certainly high on just about every thoughtful rocker’s list of influences, but while peers like Paul McCartney and the Rolling Stones blew through New York in recent months to great fanfare (and sold-out arena audiences), the erstwhile Kinks front man slipped in under the radar for this intimate club perf.
The passion that Davies brought to the proceedings belied no bitterness about that state of affairs — in itself a bit of a surprise, given his often prickly demeanor. In fact, his wit, while wielded as cleverly as ever, was marked more by winking warmth than by acerbic iciness — perhaps the result of his long recovery from a gunshot wound suffered in New Orleans last year.
Davies showed little sign of infirmity during the high-energy 2¼-hour perf — a raucous affair that stood in stark contrast to the acoustic, storyteller-styled shows he’d mounted in Gotham during the ’90s. Kicking things off with a jut-jawed “I’m Not Like Everybody Else” (as telling a tune as he’s ever written), the still-foppish singer rifled through his back pages, tearing off some seldom-perused ones along with the well-worn.
The comparatively obscure tunes were largely culled from the Kinks’ highly conceptual, uber-British middle period — notably a yearning one-two punch of “Village Green” and “Johnny Thunder” that arrived roughly midway through the set. Davies sandwiched those songs between a passel of new offerings — some from his just-released “Thanksgiving Day” EP and some from his upcoming “Other Peoples’ Lives” album — that revive the detail-laden examination of day-to-day middle-class life.
He’s still got quite a knack for it, as borne out by the everyman plaint of “Yours Truly, Confused, N10,” a bit of yin to balance the yang of the three-decades-older “Oklahoma USA.” Likewise, the title track of “Thanksgiving Day” found Davies looking for the uniquely American holiday’s inner “Waterloo Sunset” — and doing a yeoman’s job of finding it, considering his outsider’s perspective.
That perspective — the outside looking in — is a constant in Davies’ writing, a fact that he drove home again and again on this evening, in songs like a languidly delivered “Tired of Waiting” and a roughed-up “The Tourist.” He’s never been one to bang on the door in desperation to get inside, but he’s no longer lobbing grenades over the dividing wall. These days, he seems content to simply enjoy the view from his skewed vantage point.