Eric Burdon at Newcastle City Hall September 2016

September 9, 2016

It’s the second time I’ve seen EB in the last three years, and the third time in my life (in 1968 I saw a charity ref-formation of the original five animals at … Newcastle City Hall). He’s always been a favourite of mine. But this was a far far better performance than at Colne, and that is largely because this is a much more sympathetic band than the one he had in Colne (which featured Billy Watts and Red Young, amongst others – Young in particular had been playing keyboards for EB for some time).

In Colne, however, the first time he had been able to use the name Animals in the UK for a decade, the band was at odds with the audience, and curiously passionless. This time, the band was in sync with the songs, and this in turn meant Eric himself was more at home with his material – with almost all of it, of course, he faces the problem that it is over-familiar. It must be hard to keep singing The House Of the Rising Sun for over fifty years. (Here, it was stripped of Hilton Valentine’s arpeggio, and returned halfway to its origins as a folk song.)

As he left the stage, Eric patted the drummer, Dustin Koester, on the back. The others were bound to receive similar treatment for the way they handled the set. One particular triumph was the inclusion of a small horn section – Ruben Salinas (sax, flute) and Evan Mackey (trombone) – the horns filled out the sound. The Young/Watts band was brittle and flashy in Colne; this was altogether more understated, so that when a solo was more heated – Davey Allen on the keyboards on one occasion, I think in the last number – it was a delight. In Colne the solos sounded like habit. Not here.

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Eric Burdon at the Newcastle City Hall

By by count they performed fourteen songs, including some hybrids, and including two encore numbers (we didn’t get a second encore, which would have been Hold On I’m Comin’, judging by recent performances – a pity). The set list was something like this – I may have a couple in the wrong order:

  1. intro to Ian Dury’s Hit Me With The Your Rhythm Stick/ Spill the Wine
  2. Don’t Bring Me Down
  3. See See Rider
  4. When I Was Young  which segued into
  5. Inside Looking Out
  6. Monterey
  7. Bo Diddley Special (from his most recent album)
  8. In The Pines (a Leadbelly take on a nineteenth century song often recorded as ‘Black Girl’)
  9. Mama Told Me Not To Come
  10. Space Oddity/ Sky Pilot (that’s right – a curious mash-up of a Bowie tribute)
  11. Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood
  12. The House Of the Rising Sun

Encore:

13. Sinner’s Plea

14. We Gotta Get Out Of this Place

It was an interesting mixture – four from 1966 (Mama Told Me Not To Come was recorded then, but released much later), only three early ones, and three from the 1967/68 incarnation, plus the War single, Spill the Wine. That suited me: if I had to pick a All Comers Top Five, Burdon’s version of See See Rider would be in it. I must have worn out five copies of that single (only a B side in this country), and it suited guitarist Johnzo West’s laconic guitar (very definitely a jam guitarist). In the same way, Monterey, a blistering single from late 1967, suited the bass style of Justin Andres – long loping runs, all propelling the song forward (it’s a list song, a sort of catalogue of the Monterey Pop Festival. This allowed him to tell a story about being given a rose at Monterey by a Hollywood movie actress. ‘I ate it,’ he said, ‘that’s how it was in those days’).

But I was most taken with The Pines (recorded by any number of people, including Nirvana at the end of one of their last appearances). You can read the song a million ways. Is it an adulterous woman lying about where she was (In the pines/ In the pines/ Where the sun never shines) the night before? Or someone hiding from the law/ a vicious man/ white ‘justice’? It’s a good song for EB to have taken up with: he is a good blues talker, always has been, and this mixture of song and recitation is perfect for him. His voice is in great shape – at 75, he hits the higher notes with surprising ease.

The concert itself had a major flaws, for which the promoter needs to be smacked on the hand. Doors opened at the City Hall at 7 for 7.30, and at 7.45, a support act, the local codgers Tex, Leon and Friends, who hobbled through some old favourites, but were best with a cover of Apache. At 8.40 or so, enter Marmalade (or ‘The Marmalade’, as they were announced; pity the Jam wasn’t on the bill …). I was never a fan of Marmalade when they had their first hit with Ob-la-di, Ob-la-da in 1968, and I was just as un-keen on their subsequent hits, although my memory is that the hits weren’t quite their live act. These days, they are pretty workaday, even sludgy and poor in places. And the fact is, they are one of those bands that has successively been deprived of every original member – one of the current lot dates to 1975, but the singer has been with them for fewer than five years. Still, it wasn’t so much that I didn’t much care for them, it was that they persisted for 75 minutes, by which time EB’s fans – and we’re not getting younger – were checking their watches and looking at bus timetables. But there was a further disaster. Chris Cross, unfunny local stand-up and magician, ambled on to try some patter about applause and sword-swallowing. He died. If he hadn’t died, he would have been killed. He deserved to be.

So the Animals came on after 10, and left not long before 12. They carried the 1800 or so crowd with them, by and large, but not all of the crowd. On the balcony, twenty people left during the performance, and I wonder if it was the timing. (The band was late on in Colne, and was roundly slow-hand-clapped, I recall.) But it may have been a false perception of Eric Burdon and the Animals being part of an Oldies package – as in Marmalade. But he isn’t, and he has long since re-arranged his hits from that era, and feels under no compunction to do them all. Good for him. But some of the audience may have been less in touch with him as a brilliant artist still working out how not to be swamped by his back catalogue.

The Animals – L-R Allen, Salinas, Andres, Burdon, West, Koester and Mackey

Two stars for the package. Five for Eric Burdon, though. It is reassuring when a musical idol is still coming up with the goods after five decades.