It seemed a bit of a strange mix when it was first announced – the legendary Eric Burdon, an icon of the ’60s, paired with ’80s rocker Pat Benatar. Would there necessarily be a crossover between fans of the two? Would Benatar fans know who Burdon and the Animals were? Would Burdon fans split once their man had finished his set?
As it turned out, Friday’s Buffalo Place Rocks Canalside pairing went off without a hitch. Both Benatar and Burdon played well-received sets before an audience that seemed to adore everything both artists offered.
Burdon and his stellar band had the edge on Benatar, though, if only by a bit. The singer, now 70, offers a direct conduit to the British Invasion. The Animals were perhaps the first truly amazing garage rock band, and Burdon, one of the first great white blues shouters. As a recent album recorded in collaboration with young garage rock outfit the Greenhornes proves, Burdon may be old, but he’s still got the goods in the voice department. In fact, as he tore through a set of Animals classics, solo career highlights, and a bit of his work with funk band War, Burdon sounded an awful lot like he did in his 20s, when the Animals were shaking things up with the blues-folk fusion of “House of the Rising Sun.”
The set kicked off with “When I Was Young,” and Burdon was immediately on point, leading a virtuosic ensemble of musicians who all were capable of handling strong vocal harmonies. The band sounded an awful lot like one would imagine the Animals might sound if all the original members were still living and playing together in the present tense. By its very nature, Burdon’s set boasted an air of nostalgia, and he wasn’t stingy with the songs people know and love him for. That said, there was new music on offer too, with several songs from Burdon’s recent “Til Your River Runs Dry” making an appearance, most notable among them “Water,” “Wait” and the primal, swampy “Bo Diddley Special.”
These songs measured up to the Animals gems, as well as the unstoppable refrain of the Burdon/War collaboration “Spill the Wine,” which had the by-now swelling crowd dancing, screaming along, and holding their drinks in the air as if offering Burdon and Company a toast.
This was a tough act to follow, unquestionably, but Benatar and her husband, guitarist, songwriter and bandleader Neil “Spider” Giraldo, are nothing if not the consummate professionals, and they took to the stage unfazed, kicking directly into the pop-metal strains of “All Fired Up.” By the conclusion of the set’s second tune, “Invincible,” it was clear that Benatar’s voice is still remarkably strong and agile. It was also clear that Giraldo is a beast of a guitarist, a man whose roots are more than likely in the rockabilly/blues/rock ‘n’ roll stew first stirred by the Animals. Giraldo strutted around the stage spitting out razor-sharp licks and sparring with his wife for the spotlight.
Friday’s show at Canalside was the second to last gig on Benatar’s lengthy summer tour, and the band seemed a touch tired. Still, they rose to the occasion, offering a desperate energy to the hits – “Promises in the Dark,” “Hell is for Children,” “You Better Run,” “Hit Me With Your Best Shot,” and“Sex As A Weapon” among them.
An encore of “Heartbreaker” turned into a lengthy jam interpolating Johnny Cash’s “Ring of Fire” and a very cool Giraldo guitar solo that included the riffs from Led Zeppelin’s “Heartbreaker” and the White Stripes’ “Seven Nation Army.” A classy way to say goodbye.
Earlier, the Jamie Moses Band got things rolling with a strong set of bluesy original tunes, all of which featured the always impressive stylings of guitarist Ron LoCurto. Moses led the band through “Burn Down Your Mission,” “Blue Hearted Woman” and “Back In My Garden,” working his own piano and synthesizer riffs around LoCurto’s blues-based stabs.