The Yardbirds, led by its only original member, drummer Jim McCarty, aided by a tight, scorching-hot band that included Malden native Johnny A on lead guitar, opened with a blistering set.
"Heart Full of Soul," one of the band's poppier psychedelic hits started things off with gusto, fueled by a twin-guitar attack. "Drinking Muddy Water," a chugging blues, featured splendid harmonica by Mike Scavone. Lead singer John Idan shined all night, especially on a cover of Mose Allison's "I'm Not Talking" and the hits "Shapes of Things" and "For Your Love."
The Yardbirds are known for launching the careers of Eric Clapton, Jeff Beck and Jimmy Page, but local ace Johnny A (Antonopoulos) was not intimidated; his guitar solos were powerful and nuanced all night, whether he was rocking out (Howlin' Wolf's "Smokestack Lightning") or adding psychedelic flourishes (the awesome "Over Under Sideways Down").
Kudos, too, to the rhythm section of McCarty and monster bassist Kenny Aaronson, who's played with everyone from Bob Dylan, Joan Jett to Billys Idol and Squier. The set-closing cover of "Dazed and Confused," by Page's "other band" Led Zeppelin, roared and rocked with abandon.
Headliner Burdon, performing on the night before his 77th birthday, and his new young anonymous Animals were fine but never quite caught fire.
In the hit "When I Was Young," Burdon sang "smoked my first cigarette at 10" and that might explain how he developed that distinctively raw, rough, BIG growl of a voice. Thursday night, he was both in exceptional voice and barely noticeable, often during the same song. He was often overpowered by his sax and trombone players.
Burdon, short and stout and barely taller than the baritone sax on stage, wore shades and was dressed all in black, a perfect counterpoint to his snow-white hair.
Arriving on stage while his six-piece band vamped through Ian Dury's "Hit Me With Your Rhythm Stick," Burdon immediately jumped into the funky, organ-drenched "Spill the Wine," his hit collaboration with the band War. (War is at the auditorium on Sept. 29; wouldn't be cool if Burdon showed up unannounced to sing this song?)
Burdon shined during a cover of Lead Belly's "In the Pines," a savage, mournful blues, and a swinging version of Sam Cooke's "Bring it on Home to Me." Animals hits "Don't Let Me Be Misunderstood" and the classic "House of the Rising Sun" sounded great.
Burdon's voice both soared and disappeared during Animals hits "Monterey" and "It's My Life." These songs are great as 3-minute-long 45s; there's no need to pad them with extraneous guitar and piano solos.
The evening ended with an upbeat "We Gotta Get Out of This Place," one of the British Invasion's greatest hits.
Bill Brotherton is the Item's Features editor. Tell him what you think at [email protected]