Patti Smith presents Eric Burdon a birthday cake at City Winery (Photo: Yee Fan Chu)
It was altogether fitting that Eric Burdon performed his semi-autobiographical 1967 hit with The Animals “When I Was Young” at his “Birthday Bash” show last night at City Winery New York.
For Burdon, who turned 77 yesterday, has never sounded younger. Backed by a young band (keyboards, guitar, bass, drums and two horns/reeds players), the venerable British Invader seemed to feeding off their energy, so much so that it was impossible to say who was keeping up with who while he sang like a man who’s seen it all and done it all—both of which he has.
And now add fireman to his resume. When an overly excited Patti Smith came out for the encore to present him with a birthday cake, her long hair caught fire from the candles. Not skipping a beat, Burdon doused it with his bare hands such that it was barely perceptible.
Not that the set needed such a flash point. Opening with The Animals anthem “We Gotta Get Out of This Place,” Burdon was hot the whole set, giving it and other classics (including “Don’t Bring Me Down,” “Outside Looking In” and “Bring It on Home to Me”) fresh arrangements—for which he frequently thanked his bandmates by gesture and name. No surprise that the group’s chart-topping signature 1964 debut hit “The House of the Rising Sun” was a standout, building in intensity via the horns while Burdon boldly hit the high notes; The Animals’ 1965 hit “Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood” merits special mention, too, in that its originator Nina Simone has just posthumously joined the group in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
The set ended with a timely cover in Buffalo Springfield’s 1966 protest hit “For What It’s Worth,” which Burdon recorded and released a year ago on the occasion of his 76th birthday. “It’s as relevant today as it was during the Vietnam war and speaks to this generation just as it spoke to mine,” he said then.
The encore then commenced with his 1970 hit with War “Spill the Wine”—and Smith’s fireworks. Followed by a loving embrace, she joined him on the chorus of Sam & Dave’s soul smash “Hold On, I’m Comin’”—a choice coda to The Animals’ immortal “It’s My Life.”