For Eric Burdon, act three, or is it four?, seems both promising and open-ended. At The Egg on Sunday, the 72-year old British singer rocked Memphis soul, Chicago blues and New Orleans barrelhouse with timeless authority and a killer band.
With the rough-and-ready Animals, Burdon stood out among British blues fanatics holding up a mirror across the Atlantic to show what that music was, is and will be. Serious soul followed when Burdon teamed up with War, between the original Animals and reunions. Sporadic solo recordings and tours barely beat has-been obscurity, so when Burdon’s new album “’Til Your River Runs Dry” proved he still has plenty of hot sauce, it hit like a pleasant and powerful surprise.
Burdon sounded like a sharecropper’s son, Beale Street or bayou denizen back in his 20s, so the passing years didn’t hit him as hard as some contemporaries. In fact, his whole arsenal seemed strong on Sunday, from his tackling of the age thing right out of the box with “When I Was Young” to his encore of John Lee Hooker’s “Boom Boom Boom” – after “House of the Rising Sun,” of course.
Burdon sampled the new album, selling the songs well: “Water” rocked big, “Wait” went Caribbean,” and “Black Dog” — not Led Zeppelin’s — was a blues about Winston Churchill. Vintage tunes crept soon into and took over the setlist and ignited the boomer-age crowd: “Spill the Wine” early, “It’s My Life” and “Please Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood” back to back later, then the blues interlude “Before You Accuse Me” — Burdon singing it way better than Clapton — then “We Gotta Get Out of this Place” wrapping into “Crawlin’ King Snake” before “House” brought down the house.
Burdon was in better-than-good voice, and a fine mood, giving “Spill the Wine” a playful lilt, digging deep into the blues and giving the soul tunes a spunky bounce. His mood was at least in part because of his band: keyboardists Reggie Young and Teresa James, guitarists Billy Watts and Eric McFadden, bassist Terry Wilson, drummer Tony Braunagel and percussionist Wally Ingram. They made a ferocious and full sound that framed Burdon’s voice and the songs in forceful unity, tasteful Caribbean accents at times and strong harmony singing.
The musical and emotional quality of it was superb, start to finish — in contrast to a reportedly lackluster Burdon show at the Empire State Plaza some summers ago. He’s back, and look out.
Opener Erin Harkes said, as host of many open mics, Sunday was the first time she was actually happy to hear “The House of the Rising Sun”! A late addition to Burdon’s show, Harkes’s solo acoustic set made fans happy to hear her wave-form melodies, emphatic strumming and huge voice. One song challenged a partner to recognize “how special I am,” and she made the crowd believe it. Even quiet songs — “Fall Out” was a standout,” a potential country smash — built big momentum. But her set-closer, Patty Griffin’s “Cain,” started big and stayed there.