Concert Highlights–Eric Burdon and the Wild New Band of Animals at City Winery, 8/8/2016

I haven’t forgotten the first time I saw Chubby Checker.

It was around 1980 or so, and I was reviewing for Variety when he opened for Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons at the Dane County Coliseum in Madison. He had a young rock ‘n’ roll band that was full of energy, and he made Frankie look tired and boring in comparison. After his set I told him about my friends Dr. Bop & the Headliners who were playing at a campus club and sure enough, he went down there and sat in.

I thought of Chubby Monday night at City Winery, when Eric Burdon did the first of his two-night stand there. The last time I saw him he was with a band made up of guys in his age range, that is, middle and older, now that he’s 75. He was great, they were great, but I will note that he sat on a stool a lot of the time. Maybe he had to—but not now: His band now is made up of youngsters and there was no stool in sight. And when he sang “When I Was Young”—which smoothly segued into “Inside Looking Out”—well, he sounded none the worse for 50 years of wear as one of rock’s greatest vocalists.

He opened with his 1970 hit with War, “Spill the Wine,” his bass player Justin Andres laying out a funky bottom from which Burdon modified the lines “When I thought I’d lay myself down to rest/In a big field of tall grass” to a big field of “medical marijuana”—in Mexican accent. Ruben Salinas added a blazing sax answer to “I could feel hot flames of fire roaring at my back,” and on “See See Rider” trombonist Evan Mackey took a lead.

Other Animals classics performed included “Don’t Bring Me Down” (featuring another great sax part), the anthems “We’ve Gotta Get Out of This Place” and “It’s My Life,” and “Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood,” which Eric dedicated to “the spirit” of its originator, “Miss Nina Simone”–then related how he was introduced to her, upon which she said, “You’re the little white motherfucker who took my song and ruined it!”

He sang Lead Belly’s folk standard “In the Pines,” his “Bo Diddley Special” tribute from his latest album ‘Til Your River Runs Dry (opening with a tuneful dirge during which guitarist Johnzo West reverently placed his hat over his heart and Eric and the rest did the same with their hands), and of course, his Animals signature “The House of the Rising Sun,” really hitting those high notes solid.

“Hitting all the notes in all the original keys,” marveled the great guitarist and Conan bandleader Jimmy Vivino in a post-show tweet. “No small feat. Just wonderful to hear that voice and songs again.”

He even threw in “Mama Told Me Not to Come,” the Randy Newman song that he recorded before Three Dog Night hit big with it, and Sam & Dave’s “Hold On, I’m Comin’.” But maybe the night’s big takeaway came in his self-penned 1967 hit “Monterey,” about the legendary California pop festival and in which he invoked the participants Ravi Shankar, The Who, The Dead, Hendrix, Hugh Masakela and Brian Jones. “You want to find the truth in life?” he asked/sang the lyric. “Don’t pass music by…and you know I would not lie!”

And then he shared the wonderful story about how a girl handed him a white rose while Otis Redding was performing, and in keeping with the overall vibe, he ate it.

Eric Burdon adds two August shows to City Winery schedule

Burd
(Photo: David Weimann)

With a pair of already sold-out new York shows slated for October (Oct. 10 and 11), City Winery has added two more Eric Burdon shows for this month.

Legendary Animals frontman Burdon, backed by a new band of enthusiastic and energetic young Animals (aptly called the Wild New Band of Animals and starring guitarist Johnzo West, keyboardist Davey Allen, trombonist Evan Mackey, saxophonist Ruben Salinas, drummer Dustin Koester and bassist Justin Andres), is now at City Winery Aug. 8 and 9, with Alberta Cross opening. The Wild Ones are ready, willing and able to perform Animals classics including “House of the Rising Sun” and “We’ve Got to Get Out of This Place”), Eric Burdon & the Animals hits like “When I Was Young” and “Monterey,” his huge “Spill the Wine” hit with War, “Bo Diddley Special” from his latest album Til Your River Runs Dry, and “some songs I’ve always wanted to sing and never got the chance to” by such writers as David Bowie, Randy Newman, Leadbelly and Ian Dury.

Of his own songs on Til Your River Runs Dry, Burdon notes that they’re “certainly some of my most personal: Every song I wrote reflects a real feeling, for the environment, for my wife, my friends, my role models, and some subjects that I avoided for years.”

Burdon, who turned 75 on May 11, is touring more than ever. He’ll return home to Newcastle upon Tyne on Sept. 7 for a celebration concert at Theatre Royal.

More (Lesley) Gore

The New York Times Magazine has an annual end-of-the-year section where it commissions outside writers to pick someone who died in the past year and write a longer and more subjective piece than the straight obituaries. I was glad that Lesley Gore was one of the 20 or so chosen last month, and that the writer, Rob Hoerburger, did such a good job.

I think she was the first “celebrity” I met when I came to New York, other than Davy Jones and Tommy Boyce–both of whom I met at an East Side club whose name I can’t remember but is long gone. I think it was a Chem bank that was on the ground floor of the office building at 1775 Broadway where I worked at Cash Box, where I saw her walk in and followed her, gherm that I am. I’m sure I wasn’t the first lovestruck 30-year-old male to impose myself on her 20 years after buying “It’s Judy’s Turn to Cry.” That we became dear friends over the many ensuing years remains among my proudest achievements.

I worked hard on her behalf, writing about her at Billboard and examiner.com and here. I tried to get her in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame while I was on the nominating committee and when I got kicked off—probably for bringing her and Nancy Sinatra and other deserving and still missing female rockers up every year—I put her in my own Rock ’n’ Roll Pantheon at examiner.

I was at BookExpo at the Javits Center on Feb. 16 when I saw an email alert on my phone that she had died. I was in the press room and maybe someone noticed tears streaming down my face. I had been calling her and leaving messages, and it wasn’t like her not to return them. Now I knew why.

I mentioned in my own last roundup of the people who died in 2015 who had affected me how Lou Christie, who had performed with Lesley since the early ‘60s, had said how she was one tough broad, essentially. This, of course, I knew. In Hoerburger’s piece, he had a great quote from her: “You gotta make your 16-year-old self proud.”

Lesley and Lou and Nancy, The Turtles, Chris Hillman, The Zombies, Eric Burdon, Darlene Love, Peter Noone, The Cowsills and all the other artists from my 16-year-old self that I’ve gotten to see and sometimes gotten to know, who are—or were—just as great as I remember them, as they were back then, for them I am so grateful. I’ve written this before, that they make you proud of where and when you came from, who you were and who you still are.

I’m proud that I knew and loved Lesley Gore.