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Sunday, November 19, 2017

The Kinks: Live At Kelvin Hall


1) Till The End Of The Day; 2) A Well Respected Man; 3) You're Lookin' Fine; 4) Sunny Afternoon; 5) Dandy; 6) I'm On An Island; 7) Come On Now; 8) You Really Got Me; 9) Milk Cow Blues / Batman Theme / Tired Of Waiting For You.

By the time the Kinks' first live album was released in the UK (early 1968), it was already some­what anachronistic — Something Else, the album that completed the radical reconstruction of their image begun with Face To Face, had already come out, and Ray Davies himself might have already looked upon their earlier shows with mild skepticism. In the US, however, Live At Kelvin Hall was issued as early as August '67— despite the fact that Kelvin Hall is located not in the US at all, but in Glasgow (so the American version was simply called The Live Kinks so as not to confuse people with foreign toponyms), and despite the ultimate irony of the Kinks actually being banned from live performing in the States at the time, due to their conflict with the Musicians' Union. But the American market demanded more product, even if the demand was purely theoretical, since the album did not sell well at all, and how could it, when fans usually buy live albums as memen­tos of successful live shows?

In any case, it is good to have the record as a memento, since it does capture The Kinks at their early peak, and is every bit as important for the history of the Screaming Sixties as Got Live! is for the Stones, or Hollywood Bowl is for The Beatles. But as an entertaining listen, Kelvin Hall is problematic, both for common and specific reasons. The common reason, of course, is the poor quality of the sound — particularly on the first songs, the vocals are barely audible, and then, of course, there is all the screaming... and the weirdest thing about the screaming is that, apparently, much of it was overdubbed in post-production: apparently, somebody thought that it was a good idea to show that the audiences went just as wild for the Kinks as they did for all those other bands! And thus, while half of the world spends time wondering about how to get the screaming audience out of the way on Beatles live albums, some people out there actually take the time to obfuscate the music with additional layers of screaming audience.

Naturally, this is stupid and embarrassing, and quite disastrous in the long run. However, there is also a more specific problem — and that specific problem is that, begging everybody's pardon, The Kinks were never a particularly great live band. Here, they are a good decade away from their bizarre «Silver Age», when Ray suddenly decided to «give the people what they want» and re-cast them in the image of wildly aggressive arena-rockers; but even with a far more restrained and adequate approach, none of these live versions do proper justice to the studio originals or add any interesting touches. The only genuine «rocking soul» in the band was brother Dave, who gets his chance to shine vocally on ʽCome On Nowʼ and instrumentally on ʽYou Really Got Meʼ (the latter chance you don't get to enjoy, though, because the lead guitar mike seems to have given way on the solo part) — and, anyway, brother Dave alone isn't able to do all that much.

The idea of presenting Ray's introspective, chamber-style songs like ʽA Well Respected Manʼ, ʽI'm On An Islandʼ, and particularly ʽSunny Afternoonʼ as loud onstage rock'n'roll numbers just does not work: ʽSunny Afternoonʼ is stripped of much of its studio charm, and although the sound of the audience joining in to sing an entire verse is touching, it is also pointless. All of this stuff could work in an intimate setting, preferably a small club with good acoustics, a laid-back atmosphere, and a small, receptive audience (something that The Kinks would approach only at the very end of their career, with the experience of To The Bone, easily their best live album because of its «natural» beauty). In this setting — and throw in all the silly overdubs — there is nothing but sheer earnestness to redeem these recordings.

The record ends with a long medley that humorously combines ʽMilk Cow Bluesʼ with the back-then ubi­quitous ʽBatman Themeʼ and then, bizarrely, with ʽTired Of Waiting For Youʼ because everybody in 1967 had to make some bizarre decisions. The entire point of the medley seems to be to prove that The Kinks, too, could handle the art of extended live jamming in the age of The Who, Cream, and Hendrix; however, this is not really extended live jamming, and I'd rather they have at least left ʽTired Of Waiting For Youʼ out of it — the rest is okay, though not exactly Who-level when it comes to kicking sand in our face.

In the band's defense, it should be pointed out that very few, if any, rock bands had managed to come out with decent-sounding live albums by 1967 — the age of the Ultimate Live Experience would not properly begin until the next decade. But as much flak as the Stones' Got Live If You Want It usually gets, I would still take it over Live At Kelvin Hall any day: tighter playing, better production, and, most importantly, a frontman who was born for the art of onstage swagger, while Ray Davies, for all of his diverse talents, was definitely born for something else. «Some­thing else», get it?


  1. Not a single musician in The Kinks was a great craftsman when it came to the instrument battles. Dave held the highest bar among others, sure, but I can't say he had a unique character in the guitar-hero world. Yes, he had invented this proto-metal sound and, yes, something-something-something, too, but at the end of the day he was just a white boy fascinated with R'n'B who never had a proper ground to push his skills to extreme. In terms of fit/skill balance all The Kinks were "fit" guys and eventually this is what made them a great live band in the early 70s (before Ray made up his mind to conquer America). Take a listen, here's the live performance from 1973: — sloppy, off-key but oh so fun to listen.

    This recording is sure not. Probably, Ray and the company still haven't figured out why exactly they are doing it except for the money.

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