Eric Burdon & the Animals Costa Mesa 60th Anniversary June 29, 2013 The City of Costa Mesa is getting old. Of course that's hardly a bad thing. Hell, it beats the alternative. It was also the reason we were all there to celebrate and throw back a few $5 Bud Lights during the three-day Costa Mesa 60 and Fabulous festival at the OC Fairgrounds on Saturday night. Fabulous though it may be (after all, CM is still the Weekly's bread and butter when it comes to readership), the city's attempt to display its wrinkles was stymied by some obvious cracks during the headlining performance of Eric Burdon and The Animals.
Don't get us wrong, Burdon is one of our favorite eccentric grandpas of the British Invasion. And the love seems to be mutual--now at least. You've likely heard the old yarn about him and his band getting, uh, banned from Costa Mesa decades ago during 1968 Newport Pop Festival (the precursor to Woodstock) that drew more than 100,000 people to the sleepy suburban town. Of course these days, he and whatever incarnation of the Animals currently exists have become staples at classic rock strong holds like the Coach House in San Juan Capistrano (they even recorded an album and live DVD there back in 1998). No, Burdon has plenty of fans in OC for sure. But enough to create a frenzy at the fairgrounds on a Saturday night? Not so much.
As we sat back to watch about 400 people (generous estimate) scrunch together to bang their heads to some classic rock staples, we couldn't help noticing how easy it was to spot the gaps on the asphalt concert area where crushed beer cups and lawn chairs outnumbered people. Not a good sign as Burdon and his band sauntered onstage about 20 minutes late--fresh off of a flight from Rio de Janeiro--to open with the familiar lilt of the Middle Eastern riff of "When I Was Younger."
From the beginning, the band's lack of a proper sound check was painfully noticeable. Had they done one, somebody might've realized that the monitors on stage were blown the fuck out. We blame Chevy Metal, who were probably the loudest act all weekend. But you have to expect that amps and speakers will get turned up when Dave Grohl makes a surprise appearance to jam with Taylor Hawkin's classic rock cover band. But suffice it to say, the sound on stage was a crackly, feedback-laden nightmare for the first few songs. Burdon even stopped the performance twice in the beginning to demand things get straightened out (to his credit, the Rock-n-Roll Hall of Famer kept rather cool about the whole thing).
Sporting shades, scarf and a crown of spiky white hair, Burdon's salty, old man swagger stayed at full tilt despite the technical difficulties. That includes picking up a cowbell and banging it like a cheap hooker during his iconic rendition of War's "Spill the Wine" which he famously first recorded in 1970. The fact that Burdon was able to move on from the snafus was a perfect reminder of why age and experience are key factors in getting through life's unexpected bullshit. Hopefully Costa Mesa learned that lesson on its 60th birthday.
The crowd that was at the festival had been pretty sparse, even for a lot of the newer and more local acts like Tijuana Panthers and The White Buffalo. For a lot of fans, that was an excuse to turn into wet blankets with arms folded. Not so with the old crowd who came out to see the Animals. Though it was a lightly attended show that was probably well past most of their usual bed times, Burdon's original fans thoroughly engaged in some happy head banging, sloppy swing dancing and a few even took turns sparking up their glaucoma medication. Even decades after they were recorded, rock anthems like "It's My Life" persist as anthems of rebellion for frustrated, adventurous youth (some of whom were actually in the crowd!).
Throughout the set, hazy clouds of smoke popping up in the audience acted like a blurring agent, allowing newer songs to seep in effortlessly. Blues boot stomper "Black Dog" and the chugging guitar of "Bo Diddley Special" showcase a bit of what Burdon's gravelly voice has to offer on his 2013 release Till Your River Runs Dry.
By the time Burdon got down to the bottom of the set for a hopping, reggaefied rendition of "Don't Let Me Be Misunderstood," the fans left standing were treated to a rousing closing salvo, featuring heavy hitters "We've Got to Get Out of This Place" and the ever-appreciated cover of "House of the Rising Sun" before one final encore that ended with Burdon wailing indiscriminately into the mic over some wicked Latin percussion. It was like watching your grandpa go wild with the hired band at a family reunion. Lucky for Burdon, his growling ferocity on stage still allows him to make a career out of being an Animal at age 74. How many guys his age can say that?
Critical Bias: I never realized how many tracks Eric Burdon and Nina Simone shared in their discography until I saw him perform them all. Kinda crazy when you think about what vastly different sounds they represent.
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The Crowd: Tommy Bahama, Paco Rabon and J.C. Penny were all present and accounted for.
Overheard: Some drunk frat guy stumbled up to me gave me a fist bump and said "Dude, that was rad!" So was your breath, man.
Random Notebook Dump: Perhaps the biggest crowd of the night showed up to watch Dave Grohl pop up to surprise Foo Fighters fans when he performed with drummer Taylor Hawkins during Chevy Metal's cover band set. They did exactly zero FF songs. Guessing if he had, the city would've been writing a few extra zeroes on the end of their pay check.