The Who without Keith Moon. Pink Floyd without Roger Waters. The Beach Boys without a single Wilson brother. Survivors of many a classic rock band roll on (and in some cases on and on and on). The Kinks, however, were always way out of touch, so perhaps it's fitting that they can't be bothered either to keep playing together or finally to break up.
The Kinks legend emanates from two brothers, Ray and Dave Davies, whose sibling rivalry fueled some of the most startlingly original music to come out of any 1960s British Invasion band. Ray came up with all the hits, from "You Really Got Me" to "Sunny Afternoon" to "Lola," but it was Dave who invented the sound of the Kinks (and, along the way, hard rock as we know it) when, as a bored teenager, he mutilated a cheap amplifier and unleashed the fuzzy screech that guitarists everywhere now take for granted. Ray's observant pen and Dave's primordial guitar were a great combination despite the clashes, onstage and off, that must have served as the paradigm for the Gallagher brothers 30 years later. These contrasting creative juices have led to a long, spotty career that's seen concept albums (Soap Opera, Schoolboys in Disgrace) in the 1970s, unexpected hits (Give the People What They Want, the single "Come Dancing") in the 1980s and, without any official breakup, a virtual group standstill in the last decade.
Not that the Davies boys aren't visible. Ray occasionally puts an engaging "storytelling" show on the road and has authored several books, including 1994's "X-Ray: The Unauthorized Autobiography." Dave, after two decades of hit-or-miss solo material and his own tell-all tome (1997's Kink) has gotten so tired of waiting for his brother to kall for new Kinks rekordings that he's hit the road, too, demolishing small venues everywhere with a fury and enthusiasm that time has left undiminished. This collection, recorded at a December '97 New York club date, shows that Dave need not remain in his brother's shadow. He kindles a wild and crazy fire beneath some of Ray's lesser-known Kinks klassics, bringing heartfelt, tuneful new life to songs such as "Too Much on My Mind" and "Picture Book," and kicking bum on rockers such as "I Need You" and "David Watts."
Meanwhile, Dave's own Kinks compositions, while admittedly, er, unique, have aged surprisingly well. From the surreal "Death of a Clown" ("The trainer of insects is down on his knees/ And frantically searching for runaway fleas ... so let's all drink to the death of a clown") and the ominous "Creeping Jean" ("You don't know what I mean/ Creeping Jean's a disease") to the prescient punk anthem "I'm Not Like Everybody Else," ("I don't want to live my life like everybody else/ 'Cause I'm not like everybody else"), they all sound better now than they did in the first place.
Dave Davies' singing, mind you, is not for the fainthearted. An almost exact mirror of his guitar sound, it squawks and twists up and down the octaves in strangulating exuberance. It's exhilarating stuff, though, because he really isn't like everybody else. Far from an indulgence of welcome-outworn classic-rock nostalgia, Rock Bottom is a lively reminder of how a great rock guitarist can leave you happily deafened and dumbly grinning.
(More good news for fans: Dave has his own Web site, www.davedavies.com, which offers MP3s of songs that didn't fit on the album, as well as another [Web-only] live disc.)