Where do I begin to tell you about my long weekend spent seeing and photographing the perennially-awesome Ray Davies at the start of his 2012 West Coast tour? Well, right here, I guess:

Yup, that's Yours Truly at age 16, getting ready to photograph the Kinks in Milwaukee in 1978, with a rented camera and a single roll of film. The day was remarkable for three reasons: it was my first time seeing the Kinks, my all-time favorite band; I had never used an SLR camera before and didn't even know how to load or unload the film (hence the necessity of whole one-roll thing), and; that I was dumb enough to wear the same platform shoes that I tripped over the year before, breaking my ankle, on the day of what was going to be my first Kinks show. In 1978, no one cared if you walked in with a camera, and I really, really wanted to try to take pictures of this huge event.

In so many ways, that was the first day that everything "clicked" for me, if you will excuse the pun. I loved being behind the camera during the show; the challenge of trying to grab the magic of rock n' roll was insanely intoxicating. I felt the performance energy just flowing through the lens right to me, like an electrical charge. The one roll turned out beautifully, and I started to feel like, hey, this is something I can do!, which is a pretty big thing to feel. And so I kept on photographing the Kinks for several years into the '80s, at venues all over the United States, the first time I had ever been out of Wisconsin or away from home. I felt like the luckiest person ever. My favorite band!

As the Kinks were getting to the end of their working-band days, I stopped photographing concerts, too. I was tired and discouraged; the business of rock n' roll even in those short few years had changed dramatically and everything was just so much harder, and and and...there were lots of reasons. I had a great run, and it was time to do some other things.

Fast forward 25 years or so...I graduated from college, had three kids, started my own website, and with the advent of the DSLR, thought, hey, maybe, just maybe, I can shoot shows again! How I missed it! And this brings us to just why being able to see Ray Davies again and give the shows my best photographic effort meant more to me than I could properly put into words. It was like coming home again.


Armed with a freshly-minted passport, two camera bodies, three lenses, two flashes, and nervous excitement, we arrived in Vancouver, which is about a 3-hour drive from my home in the Seattle area. Despite having lived here in the Pac NW since 2004, I'd never been up to British Columbia. It's just gorgeous.

We chose a hotel just a block away from the Vogue Theater, and its proximity did help make up for the wet dirty towel smell that permeated the place. Rock n' roll. With some time to kill, we walked around this rather gritty section of Granville Street, got sandwiches made from waffles, marveled at the '80s time warp that was the cavernous Vancouver Rock Shop, and finally met up with fans/friends Frank, Andrea, and Laurie waiting in line. An issue with the photo pass at the box office was kindly resolved, and I was allowed to pop in and grab a standing spot at the stage, shooting for the first three songs of each act, standard practice these days.

I had never seen The 88, so was delighted to discover that they are a top-flight classic pop act, meaning that they write deliciously singable, catchy, and heartfelt songs, and then perform the hell out of them. It's little wonder that Ray chose them to open his shows and also have them pop into his own set as a backing band -- an excellent choice. They were also a joy to shoot, and had way better lighting than Ray at each gig (HINT TO LIGHTING GUY). Look at the last photo in this set -- that's Frank and Andrea reflected in the guitar! Cool! (You can click on any of the photos to enlarge, or view them via the Flickr links, too!)

(The 88 Vogue Theater Vancouver 7/13/12 Flickr set)

Ray time!! With my gear ready to go, I scoped out the stage set-up as the fans crowded the front, chatting happily and drinking multiple cans of Pabst Blue Ribbon. Hmm, I thought, well, the two music stands in front of Ray are going to be a bit of a thing to get around since I can't move or instantly grow a foot in height. No matter -- tight shots this tour for the win.

As the intro music built and Ray walked out onto the stage, a roar went up from the crowd, and then there was his familiar face with the crooked grin and gappy teeth, which never fails to make me smile in return. He opened his arms wide in acknowledgement, then settled down on a stool to play an opening acoustic set with brilliant guitarist Bill Shanley. He seemed a bit more serious than in years past, but then I recalled that this was the opening tour day, and those days are always a little more stressful than the others, even after years of performing. The show was a fine mix of hits, newer songs, cult favorites, and surprises like "Full Moon" from the Sleepwalker album, and man, he hit those high notes like a boss.

The standout, breathtaking moment for me was during "A Long Way From Home," a song Ray wrote about his brother and Kinks founding bandmate, Dave Davies. Ray's demeanor during this song was markedly different than any other song during the night, or on any of the following nights' performances. As he sang the opening lyrics, "You've come a long way from the runny-nosed and scruffy kid I knew..." he seemed somehow somewhere else, shook his head once, quickly, and blinked hard. By the end of the song, the tears that had welled up in my eyes spilled out, and I had to brush them away.

I drummed my hands so hard on the stage during the show I thought maybe I messed them up. I did not.

(Ray Davies Vogue Theater Vancouver BC 7/13/12 Flickr set)

SEATTLE, WA., USA, JULY 14, 2012

After a totally yummy breakfast (lavender latte, anyone?) at the very hip Cafe Medina, we roared out of Vancouver...only to be met with a 75-minute wait at the Canada/USA border. I amused myself by watching people sprint out of their vehicles to use the restroom in the park near the Customs booths and return back before the lines moved again.

The Seattle show at the Neptune Theater show was extra-super-special for me, because I would be bringing Mr14 and MissNine to their very first Ray Davies concert, and we were all pretty darn pleased about it. They stood very patiently in line with their dad while I again waited by the box office to pick up my pass. I chatted with old and new fans/friends, and the time passed quickly.

The Neptune had done a little twist on the general admission tickets, reserving the first three rows for "VIP general admission," seats which, of course, were more expensive. We ended up in the front row, and the smiles on the kids' faces were priceless as they absorbed the reality of their very good fortune and my lightened wallet.

The floor was so tight with chairs that it was just not going to be the thing to try to quickly run around and get different photo vantage points with two heavy clunky cameras, so I did one pop out to the aisle and then shot from my seat, as to lessen anyone being annoyed by me or me falling on my face.

The Neptune's gorgeous lighting and cool details were on full display with The 88, and just like in Vancouver and Portland, the band totally won over the crowd with stellar songs and passionate performances. I don't know how vocalist/guitarist Keith Slettedahl screams so wildly every night and still has a voice to sing so sweetly with as well. I envy this quality greatly. Each member of the band is superb.

(The 88 Neptune Theater Seattle WA 7/14/12 Flickr set)

The main excitement of the intermission was that Mr14 lost a baby tooth in a Milk Duds bite.

Seattle loves Ray Davies, and I think Ray digs us, too! This show was more relaxed and playful, featuring a spontaneous version of Woody Guthrie's "This Land Is Your Land," which the audience enthusiastically sang for Ray when he couldn't quite recall all the lyrics. Fair enough...he's a Brit, after all! That's another thing about seeing Ray play live -- at any point you could stop the show cold and you'd hear hundreds -- and sometimes thousands -- of voices in the crowd singing along with every word, every time, from the booming drunk guy to the mouse-voiced moppet. I'm not even sure if most of the people are even aware they are singing along, the songs are so familiar and DNA-embedded.

Having the punk rock heart that I do, I was thrilled to hear full-out RAWKEN ROLL versions of "Till the End of the Day," "20th Century Man," and my very favorite Kinks song, "All Day and All of the Night." Seeing Ray jump up into the air like he was wearing giant springs on his shoes made me smile and yell encouraging hoots and hollers.

The Great Family Show Moment happened about midway through the show, when Ray noticed MissNine sitting reasonably demurely in her seat. A huge bright smile flashed on his face as he stopped what he was doing, walked over to her, leaned down, and shook her teeny hand. As I sat next to her, I too beamed, watching her face lit up by the reflected stage lights as she looked completely starstruck and utterly overjoyed. I tell ya, the man has the Charm Factor, he really does.

After the show, MissNine and I waited in the highly-dumpster-scented alley by the Neptune's stage door to see if she might be able to say hello to Ray herself, as she is quite the little music fan. A very loud seagull kept buzzing us and all the other waiting fans, annoyed that we were blocking the tasty dumpster spoils. She was so patient and good-humored, even though it was so late in the evening for her and the stench was pretty vile. After awhile, we were summoned forth, went up a crazy amount of steep stairs, and then there he was. Smiles, handshakes, a very nice chat, and we made our way home again, babbling about all the wonderful things. Later, she made him a very sweet "thank you" card.

(Ray Davies Neptune Theater Seattle WA 7/14/12 Flickr set)


No time to lose...we gotta get on the road to Portland because it's "Ray Davies Day!" Leave it to Portland to out-Portland itself and arrange a special day surrounding the Aladdin Theater show, complete with official proclamation from the mayor's office! Of course, if you are a hardcore Kinks fan, every day is "Ray Davies Day," but I think it's nice to get the government to chime in on the deal!

Arriving with only ten slim minutes to spare, I hustle with my gear into the historic Hollywood Theater to attend a screening of "Return to Waterloo," a dark, surrealist film Ray wrote, scored, directed, and (briefly) acted in from 1984. There were fans waiting to be seated, Hotlips Pizza and Voodoo Donuts  set out on a long table, and organizer/DJ Gregarious T. Cline was behind another table greeting fans and selling charity raffle tickets for some cool items donated by Konk. Ray himself was said to be slated to make a brief appearance, but was delayed, as southbound I-5 running through Portland was very inconveniently closed. In the meantime, the UK TV film "Starmaker" ran on the screen, along with some older Kinks performance clips.

When I was adjusting my camera, I heard someone call my name. I looked up, and was completely floored to see the smiling face and opened arms of my friend Quinn from Colorado, whom I haven't seen in at least 15 years or more. He had flown to Portland for the day with his son Max, because that's what some of us crazy Kinks fans do. I am so overwhelmed by this I get a little verklempt. The last time I saw Max, he was an infant.

At last, the announcement is made that RAY IS HERE, a side door flings open, flooding the darkened theater with glowing white light reminiscent of heavenly arrivals or alien invasions, and Ray ambles over to the stage to great applause. Everyone pulls out some sort of camera as Mr. Cline reads the Official Mayoral "Ray Davies Day" Proclamation, shakes hands with the honoree, and leaves Ray to address the crowd. As he usually is while receiving awards, Ray is a bit sheepish, and he defers the honor to the Kinks. A few more thank yous, a wave or two, and he exits through the glowing door. I exit as well in order to ride along with Frank, Andrea, and Laurie to the Aladdin Theater. I will have to settle for watching a DVD of "Return to Waterloo" at home. I score a fluorescent blue-and-pink donut on my way out and call it lunch.

(Ray Davies Hollywood Theater Portland OR 7/15/12 Flickr set)

When we arrive at the Aladdin, there are already fans in line, including 20-year-old James, a sweet, good-natured, and entirely adorable Kinks Superfan who has traveled from Maryland to catch Ray's tour. He's driving, and is sightseeing in-between time spent at the shows or waiting in line for the shows. I tell him, very sincerely, these are good days, and they will reward him richly in lifetime memories. Go while you can -- go see and do and experience and celebrate the music you love. He doesn't need me to tell him at all. He gets it.

It's about three hours until doors, so Frank and I walk the ten feet over to the Lamp and sit down to a gratefully-consumed meal and have a nice talk. I've known Frank for years and years -- he's THE Superfan, and I don't think you'll see a gig by Ray Davies without Frank being in the front row, fully enthusiastic each and every time. At each show, I see other fans walk up to him and introduce themselves...fans of the Fan. I give half of my Reuben sandwich to James, but he can't sit with us because he's not yet 21.

Doors open a little on the late side due to a later soundcheck, and once again standing is allowed so I snare a front spot at the stage. This time, before I realize it and am able to move to a different spot, I have cleverly put myself directly in front of a crowd-facing sound monitor speaker. Like, it's ME:SPEAKER. Dang. Well, thank goodness for decent earplugs. Tonight, I can only shoot for two songs rather than three, so the pressure is on.

What can I say about The 88? They are ridiculously consistent and pro, and give the Portland crowd their all, which is a whole damn lot. By now, I know the words to several of their songs and am also singing along, which also means I will be buying all their stuff. You endearing devils, you!

(The 88 Aladdin Theater Portland OR 7/15/12 Flickr set)

Ray's Portland show mood is again very different -- tonight he is both feisty and goofy. A couple of times he snarled and shouted at the crowd, "Are you angry? I said, are you ANGRY, and you aren't gonna take it any more??" and received some "YEAH!!" yells back. I considered yelling back just to be friendly and participatory with the "Network" reference, but then thought, gee, I'm not angry at all -- I'm really happy to be here!

Bill Shanley is on FIRE tonight, coming up with guitar runs that make Ray grin and me yell out. He's so good -- a player with impeccable technical skills who also plays with tremendous warmth and emotion. It's a rare thing. I find that there is an upside to having the monitor all up mah grille -- there's a full mix coming from it and I can actually hear all the vocals and instruments really well, never possible from the front of the stage normally. Sounds great, guys!

The encore for the three shows has been the same: one song and done, the 1979 crowd-pleaser "Low Budget." Tonight, as Ray begins the song and the comic exaggerated performance of a man forced to be "a cut-price person in a low budget land," he stops and whips off his sneakers and black socks, and finishes the song barefoot. For a second I wonder if this if a poverty metaphor, but no -- his sneakers were just bugging him. Kinks fans can over-think things, sometimes.

(Ray Davies Aladdin Theater Portland OR 7/15/12 Flickr set)

I had planned on going to the Holocene for the "Ray Davies Day" after-party, with cool music and all, but instead opted to enjoy some kindly-offered backstage hang time with The Man and The Band and We Fans. It was all very nice and normal and low-key, just eating leftover food and drinking Heinekens, while snippets of stories floated around the small room, suitcases were packed and moved away to the next location, and Frank dug into a brown recycled-paper takeaway box of tofu and quinoa. I was greatly amused by tour manager Dave grumpily going off to do battle with the rented white SUV, whose navigation system kept defaulting to German. I imagined attempting to get Ray to the next gig and the nav voice insisting that they turn left on "Johann Gambolputty de von Ausfern -schplenden -schlitter -crasscrenbon -fried -digger -dingle -dangle -dongle -dungle -burstein -von -knacker - thrasher -apple -banger -horowitz -ticolensic -grander -knotty -spelltinkle -grandlich -grumblemeyer -spelterwasser - kurstlich -himbleeisen -bahnwagen -gutenabend -bitte -ein -n├╝rnburger -bratwustle -gerspurten -mitz -weimache - auuber -hundsfut -gumberaber -sh├Ânendanker-kalbsfleisch -mittler -aucher von Hautkopft of Ulm Strasse." This may keep me laughing for years.

At the end of the night, I give Ray Davies a hug and tell him this is my last show -- I have to return to Seattle tomorrow. He tells me, "Don't say 'last'...it sounds so...final." Well, of course, I don't mean "last-last" show; at least, I certainly hope not. I hope I can keep going for years to come, I hope I can keep photographing until my eyes drop out and my feet crumble and the camera weight on my back has compacted my spine to half its current length. I hope Frank is rocking out at the front of the stage in a wheelchair someday, throwing paper plates with song titles written on them high in the air. I hope Young James turns into Old James and is still driving across the country to be able to listen to some of the best songs ever written. And I hope Ray Davies gets his nav system sorted out, that he finds more comfortable shoes, and that he plays for us forever plus one day.

Thank you to so many, including: Mike, Ron, Cat, Dave, Mr. Cline, The 88, Bill, Frank, Andrea, Laurie, the Vogue, Neptune, Hollywood, and Aladdin Theaters, my family, all the wonderful fans, and Ray.