Eric Burdon and the Animals – 18 May 2016 Palais Theatre Melbourne
By Rob Dickens
This has been a long time coming.
The first album I fell in love with was the Mickie Most-produced 1966 compilation The Most of the Animals (owned by an elder brother). Featuring songs by John Lee Hooker, Ray Charles, Jimmy Reed, Sam Cooke and a host of originals, it was my introduction to blues, r’n’b, soul and songs with a dark side, a far cry from the endless stream of fun, love-soaked pop tunes at the time. These songs had grit, a world-weariness and a don’t-mess-with-me attitude.
It also was my entree to the great Eric Burdon, a voice with growl, menace and endless feeling.
The first album I bought was The Twain Shall Meet, by the then-named Eric Burdon and the Animals. Just two years later, it was another adventure – a different band, psychedelic rock, experimental with recording tricks-a-plenty and the epic seven minute-plus ‘Sky Pilot’.
Given all this, I confess that I have never been able to manage to see Eric Burdon live. This is largely due to having previously lived on the lovely island of Tasmania where tours are rare and partly because Burdon does not come to mainland Australia that often – this is his first visit in nearly a decade.
Fifty years on, it’s time. The news of the day that Texas singer/songwriter Guy Clark passed away at about the same age as Burdon has added some extra emotion.
But I must not let my expectations get the better of me. This guy’s been belting it out for a hell of a time, so let’s try and keep some perspective, eh? Let’s not over burden (ahem) The Man.
The opening ‘Spill The Wine’ sets the scene beautifully, a long version of a hit song that shows his wit. He is dressed in black, a peace sign on his T-shirt, shades and white hair. The voice is great and he looks like he is glad to be there. ‘See See Rider’ follows with its thumping organ. The hits keep coming – ‘When I Was Young’, ‘Monterey’ (“if you want to find the truth in life, don’t let music pass you by”), ‘Don’t Bring Me Down’ and the ballad ‘Anything’.
During the middle section of the evening, the set list is augmented by some interesting and enjoyable choices – the jumpin’ ‘Bo Diddley Special’ and the somewhat macabre ’27 Forever’ (both from his latest, 2013, album Til Your River Runs Dry), ‘Mama Told Me Not To Come’ (written by his ‘good friend’ Randy Newman), a scorching version of Leadbelly’s ‘In The Pines’, Chuck Berry’s ‘Downbound Train’ (an absolute highlight) and an engrossing ‘Star Man’/’Sky Pilot’ medley.
Back to the hits with a soulful and slow ‘Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood’ and a majestic ‘House of the Rising Sun’, the latter proving that he can still hit the high notes with aplomb. An encore of ‘It’s My Life’ and Sam and Dave’s ‘Hold On, I’m Coming’ closed off the night.
This very young version of The Animals was terrific – Davey Allen (keyboards), Johnzo West (guitar), Dustin Koester (drums), Justin Andres (bass), Ruben Salinas (saxophone) and Evan Mackey (trombone). The songs were treated with respect but there was plenty of muscle and enough variation to inject some freshness for those like me who had heard some of these songs seemingly endless times.
As Burdon left the stage to a standing ovation from the near-full house, he pointed to his watch with a cheeky grin – it’s closing time.
Still the cool guy in charge, Eric Burdon‘s legend remains well and truly intact.