I love Blue Oyster Cult. I have nine of their records recorded for Columbia-the good ones, including a couple of their live albums. I’ve even downloaded their MP3 collection “Workshop of the Telescopes.” I love their stuff.
In August of 2012 I saw them at the Emerald Queen and had a great time. They’ve returned to Tacoma at least once since that show. But when I saw, before Christmas they’d be making a return call I asked some of my friends from work if they were interested. Three of them said yes, so last night we buckled ourselves into the Smyth wagon, and headed off to dinner and a show.
Though my BOC concert experience three years ago was quite enjoyable, this was better. The band played a 90 minute set and about a half-hour encore. They covered all the songs I really wanted to hear and more–and it was really good.
How’s that for a review. Okay, you’re right, I can do better. Blue Oyster Cult grew out of the New York scene in the late 1960’s as a leather-clad proto-metal band that rocked hard before there was such a thing as heavy metal. They featured a multi-guitar attack, a menacing lock-yer-daughters-in-the-attic presence, and lyrics out of the best sci-fi and fantasy written by such luminaries as Michael Moorcock and Patti Smith.
But beneath all the “Career of Evil”, “Godzilla,” “Dominance and Submission” horror film schlock, Blue Oyster Cult is simply a great band. As they took the stage last night rhythm guitarist Eric Bloom, lead guitarist Donald “Buck Dharma” Roeser, guitarist Richie Castellano and bassist Kasim Sultan posed in a classic row with full frontal guitars, drummer Jules Radino waiting behind. There was little doubt, the night would be about guitars.
But nothing is ever quite so simple. First, throw all the dark evil out the door. Bloom and Buck Dharma are the last members of the original band. At ages 71 and 68 respectively, they’ve been around the block and are consummate showmen. Though the show at times had a “who’s on first feel” with Bloom and Castellano trading off keyboards, guitar and vocal duties between songs, as well as some unclear technical problems, this was a thoroughly professional band playing in front of a knowledgeable, supportive, sold out house. Rather than lurk darkly behind Bloom’s trademark glower masked behind sunglasses, it is clear the band was having a lot of fun. There was joyfulness in their performance.
In many respects, it all comes down to Buck. He’s having such a good time on stage. He’s fast and fluent, but it’s more than just taking off on a solo-which are naturally inserted in almost every song. I used to make a point of going to A’s games in the Kingdome back in the bad old Mariners days. I loved to watch closer Dennis Eckersley warm up in the bullpen with his easy motion: he made it look so simple. Buck is the same way. Yes, he plays lotsa notes really fast, but it feels like he’s doing it in a rocking chair. He’s smooth and melodic, doesn’t get in the way of the song- sometimes he’s doing lead vocals too; he is the song. I’ve been really fortunate in my limited concert career. I’ve seen tons of great guitarists: Chuck Berry, Dave Davies, Mike McCready, Dick Dale, Joe Walsh, Michael Campbell, Lindsey Buckingham, Robin Trower, Angus Young, Ted Nugent, Rick Nielson and more-Buck is the best.
But it wasn’t just about Buck. This band, as currently constituted, has been around a while. Guitarist Castellano showed his knows he way around his instrument and the material. He’s toured intermittently with the band since college days in 2000, became a regular in 2004, and has a masters degree in music. Taking his turn at lead and as a vocalist, his role with the band was much larger than it was in 2012. He can flat play, and was wonderful.
“Cities Aflame With Rock and Roll,” “The Golden Age of Leather,” “Dominance and Submission,” “ME 262,” “Burnin’ For You,” Cities on Flame With Rock and Roll,” “Godzilla,””The Reaper,” and “I Love the Night” were just some of the songs on the set list. Bloom lit them up with his edgy vocals. If I noticed any thing to be concerned about, it is that Buck’s voice may be fading a bit. Maybe he had a cold, maybe it’s too many nights on a long tour, but his usually clear singing wasn’t quite where it used to be.
Tickets to the show in General Admission were $25. Worth every cent. Far less inebriation in the crowd than three years ago. The surroundings in the Emerald Queen haven’t changed much. It’s still a long trudge through the casino’s great unwashed to get to what amounts to an oversized gymnasium to see the show. But I’ve been to enough shows there that I know what to expect, and except for the odd handful of clowns who believe they’re on a mission from God to catch the entire show on their phone’s video, it was a good experience. I was actually more distressed by the number of people who walked out before the nicely long encore.
Blue Oyster Cult still knows how to rock. They just do it with a bit more of a smile than in “The Golden Age of Leather.”