I’m glad Eric Burdon wasn’t invited to Desert Trip/Oldchella, because we were lucky enough to have him at City Winery for two sold-out nights this week in between the two big weekends at the Coachella festival site in Indio, Calif. I’m not saying he’d overshadow his fellow septuagenarians—Eric’s 75—but he’d have placed second to none of them.
The Monday night set—the first of the two nights–wasn’t that much different than the outstanding one he and the same band of relative youngsters did at the venue back in August, though instead of “Spill the Wine” he opened with “Mama Told Me Not to Come,” the Randy Newman song that he recorded before Three Dog Night hit big with it. The other major difference was a novel blend of Bowie’s “Space Oddity” with the chorus of his and The Animals’ “Sky Pilot,” for which he lead the SRO room in singing along to its rising “you’ll never—ever—ever—reach the sky.”
It’s what I call a “power chorus,” so powerful that you really need no prompt in thrusting your fist in the air and singing along. So many of Eric Burdon and The Animals’ immortal hits are marked by such a power chorus, like “Don’t Bring Me Down,” “Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood” and the two 1960s generational anthems “We Gotta Get Out of This Place” and “It’s My Life,” all of which Burdon performed at City Winery. He also did The Animals’ 1967 hit “Monterey,” in which he invoked Ravi Shankar, The Who, Hugh Masakela, the Grateful Dead and Jimi Hendrix in evoking the historic Monterey Pop Festival, at which all these artists performed, which Eric attended.
Here he repeated a wonderful story he told in August, about how a girl had given him a flower while Otis Redding was singing—and he ate it. Yet today, almost 50 years later and at 75, Eric Burdon remains a flower child in the best sense.
“Let’s have a Trump-free night,” he said, affirming the Summer of Love values at the start of the show, and through the rest of it he remained true to his great line in “Monterey”: “You want to find the truth in life? Don’t pass music by…and you know I would not lie!”
Again, I’m not saying he’d overshadow his fellow septuagenarians at Oldchella. But I can say that none of them will be in better musical shape, nor will any of them have a stronger commitment to all that they and their peers represented “down in Monterey.”