On a chilly Thursday evening, 29 January 2004, Mr Davies performed with his band as part of the Velvet Sessions at the Hard Rock Hotel, Orlando, Florida. All day long, the hotel played Kinks' and Mr Davies' solo works on its soundsystem throughout the hotel and car park -- and interestingly enough, prior to the gig, an enormous upright glass-sided waterfountain-cabinet blew up in the lobby.
This gig, the Velvet Sessions, is part of a series of 'special invite only cocktail parties' which, since January 2002, the Hard Rock Hotel has hosted in the hotel's Velvet Bar and Lobby Lounge on the last Thursday of every month -- the identity of the guest artists is usually kept a secret as a treat for the guests, and as a consequence, there is very little publicity. Part of the hook is that this is an 'invitation only,' intimate performance -- if an 'intimate gathering' means an audience of about 1000 people (including, allegedly, the members of INXS and Mr Robin Zander of Cheap Trick)!
There was some confusion in the few days prior to the show, as the beleaguered receptionist at the Hard Rock Café can attest -- many people rung her up, confusing the Café with the Hotel. And a few fans fretted over the 'invitation only' part -- all it meant was that one had to send an email to a special hotel website address, and receive an 'RSVP' in return -- then one replied to the RSVP to reserve tickets. Actually picking up and paying for the tickets was slightly chaotic, as so many people attended (the original adverts claimed the Kinks themselves would be performing, which was quickly corrected, & some people thought the other Mr Davies was performing), and some of the visitor staff were uncertain how to work the ticket lists on the computer. This led to a logjam of people in the foyer and spilling out into the carpark, so that other hotel guests could not get in to get to their rooms. There was some pushing and shoving amongst fans when the tickets became available, but for the most part, the enormous crowd was extremely well behaved.
The show was held in a corner of the lobby of the hotel -- this may sound strange, but the Hard Rock is, I believe, part of the Universal Studios theme park conglomerate, and they do nothing on a small scale. The stage was built at one end of a sunken lounge area below the main, colossal lobby, and those who were there early were able to squeeze into the lounge; everyone else packed the main lobby and also all along an outside patio and veranda, easily able to hear 100 watts' worth of Mr Davies' paint-blistering 4x6L6, 5x12AX7, & 2x5U4 MESA/Boogie amplifier through opened French doors. Alcohol was available to those actually within the lounge, so one of the privileges of being close to the stage was enduring those patrons already well-oiled by the time the show started.
The stage set-up was actually a double platform; Mr Davies and his band were arranged on a stage built on the short side of the lounge, in part of a corridor of the lobby, which put him about 4 feet above the sunken lounge floor area (at the same time, the back of the stage was level to the lobby) and a smaller platform was laid out in front of the main stage for the opening act. It really was a clever use of space -- another 'transformation' was to see them strike the set and completely restore the 'dance floor' back to a cocktail lounge with tables, and the high stage back to literally a corridor between the lobby and the hotel's swimming pool!
Madness, a local Florida band whose complement include several area medical doctors, kicked the evening off with a set of racuous power-punk tunes (a couple of covers, but mostly original stuff) & performed with much enthusiasm and appreciation of the crowd -- especially one song that was a bit of Green Day meets a Mexican mariachi band.
After Madness concluded their 45 minute set, their equipment were taken away, but the lower stage remained in place -- which meant that no one could get closer to Mr Davies than about 8 feet or so, a strange arrangement. Usually he has much interaction with the audience, but the strange spacing and a couple of dazzling spotlights in his face meant that he had some difficulties -- not that he wasn't dazzling himself, and worked the crowd with great energy, as always. I think the hotel people assumed he would jump down to the lower stage, but in the first place, it was a bit of a height & there was a dangerous gap between the two stages, and, in the second, guitar cables just don't reach that far!
Mr Davies took to the stage with the band to a short pre-recorded alternate interpretation of his 'Transformation' work, and kicked off at once with 'Til the End of the Day.' Despite some odd bass feedback at the beginning of the performance (quickly sorted out) and low mixed backing vocals, the entire set was raw, lively, and energetic -- Mr Davies himself admitted the band had not played together for three months!
The band complement included Mr Derrick Anderson on a Fender bass and backing vocals; Mr Jim Laspesa on drums and backing vocals; Mr Jonathan Lea on Fender Telecaster (rhythm) guitar; and Mr Davies, who played his familiar two Telecasters, run through a Boss Chorus signal processor and Danecho pedal, then through the aforementioned MESA/Boogie Duel Rectifier and a Marshall 4 x 12 cab. Mr Davies was fit and lively, rocking and taking the piss, resplendent and cheerful in a lovely purple raw silk tunic, black trousers, and flourescent green socks.
The one hour, forty minute set included a mix of hard rocking Kinky bits and solo things, a diverse showcase of his talent and versatility. In addition to 'Til the End of the Day,' there were raunchy rockers like 'I Need You and 'You're Lookin' Fine' all belted out in fine form. 'Last of the Steam Powered Trains' is a recent addition to the set, and Mr Davies didn't let down the side with a full-blooded arrangement including a fabulous lead guitar & bass 'duel' interlude. He encouraged audience participation in 'Dead End Street' (in which he substituted trombone with his own kazoo playing), and 'Death of a Clown' -- the latter also included a bit of fun after he tried to teach the audience the bridge, then played back a recording of the bridge from the original recording as a giggle. And again he included his newest work which made its debut last autumn, the bluesy 'Come to the River.'
The showstopper was of course the Transformation song arc of 'Bug,' 'DeBugged,' and the psycho-instrumental 'Life after Life (Transformation)'. Of all the songs he played, I think he was at one with this one the most, as it is really a culmination of his life, and his life's work. I think it's smashing, and it's whatever one wants it to be -- an expression, in music, of the self-organised criticality what is that state between Chaos and Order, Now and Then, Life and Beyond -- or you could just call it bloody good techno pop dance tune. You can ask himself about it yourself, but I don't think he likes to tell too much, because the whole point of it, as is anything in life, is to work it out for yourself on your own path.
Mainly a showcase of rockers (the only ballads were the moving 'Living on a Thin Line' and 'Rock You, Rock Me' -- the latter of which was sung out so powerfully Mr Davies was a bit hoarse for the following 'Death of a Clown'), the show ended on a high with the encore featuring 'I'm Not Like Everybody Else' and 'You Really Got Me.'
Everyone went away quite happy, I think, including the guy who stole the flower arrangement (which had been decorated with foot-high letters on sticks that spelt out KINKS in 'Kinks font'). Now part of the programme at the Hard Rock Hotel is to have the guest artist cook up a meal in The Kitchen, the newest restaurant in the Hard Rock, and rumour had it that the staff had whipped up a chef's apron for him with a little green amp motif, but I cannot get anyone to substantial this!
written on 4 February 2004