For under twenty bucks, concert goers with lawn seating and acceptable sight lines on a gorgeous summer night got to see two legendary acts Saturday at Festival Park, Elgin, Ill. Folks with higher-priced tickets seemed just as worked up about the headliners: 1960s British vocal legend Eric Burdon and Long Island rocker Joan Jett and The Blackhearts. This debut event, which was produced by Grand Victoria Casino, for their "GVC Rock N Roll Jackpot Concert Series" attracted a substantial multi-aged, mellow crowd.
Burdon, rated No. 57 on Rolling Stone's list of 100 Greatest Singers of all Time, went onstage first with his five-piece band which included a spectacular flautist/keyboard player, versatile acoustic piano player and fierce electric guitarist. To further ignite the flames, Burdon energetically beat the clave between verses. The set began with the crowd-pleasing staple, "I Was Younger" and was followed up with "Water," one of the chief tracks off of his latest album, "Til Your River Runs Dry." Classics such as: "Don't Let Me Be Misunderstood" from the Animals golden era and the ahead-of-its-time quasi rap "Spill The Wine" -- a hit with War, proved perfect choices for fans who chose to sing along. The blues vibe heightened with Burdon's original shuffle "Bo Diddley Special" (Burdon was a devout fan) and "Before You Accuse Me," lavishly drenched in electric guitar.
"Wait," sung earlier in the set also came off the new album; this ambling ballad offset the hard hitting appeal of blues relic "Black Dog." The set ended with monster hits, "It's My Life" and "The House of the Rising Sun." As the frontman belted out the cryptic narrative and teased the audience with hypnotic vocal climbs, the band displayed its solo treasures. Burdon will continue touring the US and Europe post concert.
Jett, formerly of The Runaways, played a set which included popular originals and covers. Although the songs were essentially comprised of simple progressions, the arrangements were riveting and heartfelt. Dressed in midnight black, her bare arms exposed, Jett urged the front rows to join in. Her upcoming October release, "Unvarnished" received lots of mention with air tight arrangements like the autobiographical "Hard To Grow Up," redemptive and plaintive "Forgive" and the prophetic "Soulmates to Strangers." But songs like "Cherry Bomb" from The Runaway days created quite a stir, too, as the singer dramatically spit out that familiar phrase as pockets of excitable women jumped up and down.
Jett blasted the past by performing her "first original," "You Drive Me Wild" and appeared especially grounded when revealing the reason for penning "Make It Back," -- a touching tribute to native New Yorkers who, when faced with tragedy, pull together and share resources. Yet, despite Jett's convictions and concern with the community at large, she came off as one of us. "I guess it's just about life, you know?" she exclaimed, before performing the solemn "Forgive." Her more risque side rose to the surface when she sang about "love with three people" and where she ripped through French phrases like a native. But the songs that really inspired the already standing audience were the cover "Crimson and Clover," with its dreamy instrumental touches and the standout "I Love Rock and Roll." Jett played several encores as concert goers peacefully streamed out of the park to avoid traffic jams.
Because this premiere concert ran smoothly and resulted in enviable ticket sales, subsequent concerts in Festival Park, which promise a blending of legends and local bands, will likely be in the works next summer. But "Don't Let Me Be Misunderstood" -- it will take not just great bands, but appreciative audiences like this one to continue the cultural explosion.
(This concert series is sponsored by Rock & Roll Jackpot and Concert Series, The Grand Victoria Casino, Elgin, Ill.)