Staging A Show

Workers prepare the main stage for the City of Costa Mesa's 60th anniversary bash on Wednesday. (KEVIN CHANG / Daily Pilot / June 26, 2013)

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The press release for Costa Mesa's 60th anniversary celebration contains a quote from Mayor Jim Righeimer noting "the unique place" that Eric Burdon and the Animals hold in the city's history.

"Unique" is a mild way of putting it. And if the Animals get a warm reception when they come back to play in this weekend's celebration, it will be much different than the one they got going out.

In 1968, the English rockers were among the headliners at the Newport Pop Festival, held at the same spot as this week's celebration by Costa Mesa City Hall. It was the year after Monterey, the year before Woodstock and long before rock stars could swing through town without outraging teachers or parents.

The Newport Pop Festival proved so rowdy — by the standards of its time, anyway — that the city's leaders opted not to host a similar event in 1969. In fact, then-Mayor Alvin L. Pinkley declared that he personally "would never again subject our citizens or our police ... to such a gathering again," according to the Los Angeles Times.

But this year, when officials began planning the city's 60th birthday party, they sought at least one performer from the festival 45 years ago. The Animals were the first act to respond, according to public affairs manager Dan Joyce, and so they made the lineup for Saturday night.

"We're trying to have a mix of six decades of music, something for everybody," Joyce said. "That kind of filled our '60s window."

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England's finest?

That window may offer a gentler view than in 1968. While The Times reported that the festival resulted in few arrests or complaints, critic Digby Diehl panned the event and directed some of his harshest words at Burdon, whose onstage presence he viewed as an example of rock deteriorating into savagery.

"Perhaps even Eric Burdon's setting off a smoke bomb during [a] performance of 'Sky Pilot' is a reasonably amusing gag," he wrote. "But Burdon rolling off the stage, pouring beer over his head, smashing into the electric piano, and dragging girls out of the audience for impromptu dancing as he did at Newport, is another matter."

How does Burdon feel about that performance today?

"It was pretty insane," he said by email Tuesday. "To me, it was up close and chaotic. ... Everything was so up close and personal, I couldn't see what was happening in the larger picture."

Does he plan a similar performance in 2013? That would be a definite "no."

"Obviously, I have no plans to fall off the stage or pour beer over my head," Burdon said. "Let's be honest, I don't think that my audience today expects a performance like this from me.

"Back then, I was expressing the experience of the hippie movement. Something that may seem cool when you are 20-something doesn't mean that's something you would do in your 70s."

Whatever outrage they may have caused in Costa Mesa, there's no question that Burdon and the Animals are major figures in rock history. The band's 1964 hit "House of the Rising Sun," which cast a traditional ballad in a hard, bluesy arrangement, is considered a folk-rock milestone, and hits like "We Gotta Get Out of This Place" and "Don't Let Me Be Misunderstood" remain classic rock radio staples.

Burdon, the band's only remaining original member, got a shimmering endorsement a few years ago from "The New Rolling Stone Album Guide," which declared that "England never produced a finer singer" than the Animals frontman at his best.

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A trailblazing woman

Given the multitude of acts onstage at the three-day festival, though, it's a likely guess that every visitor will have his or her favorite.