What Would Halloween Month Be Without Blue Oyster Cult?
How ironic that a band as obsessed with death as Blue Oyster Cult would be around forty-five years after they started. After doing insane amounts of drugs.
OK, the group that took the stage at at the Stone Free Festival in London on June 17, 2017 only included two original members, frontman/guitarist Eric Bloom and lead player Buck Dharma. But the ringers – guitarist/keyboardist Richie Castellano, bassist Danny Miranda and drummer Jules Radino – held up their end, playing iconic material, blurring the line between psychedelia, metal and art-rock. They began by playing the group’s immortally cynical first album in its entirety and ended with a handful of hits and concert favorites. Serendipitously, that show was recorded and has been released as 45th Anniversary – Live In London, streaming at Spotify.
There’s more grit on the bass, less headbanging from the drums on the opening number, Transmaniacon MC, but in parts of six decades onstage, Dharma has not lost a step. This version reminds of the slinky Radio Birdman cover from the mid-70s.
I’m on the Lamb, But I Ain’t No Sheep – an anthem for the unmasked these days, huh? – has fun phased guitars and catchy double-axe riffage. They follow with a fast, trippy, eleven-minute take of Then Came the Last Days of May, a cruel, gorgeously bluesy tale of a weed deal gone horribly wrong which gets a long doublespeed outro with Dharma going full tilt. Amazing what you can do with a four-chord descending progression from C minor.
The band hit the stoner boogie Stairway to the Stars harder: it’s less subtly macabre than the album version. Hell, any resemblance to a classic album version is welcome at this point, and Dharma’s icy chorus-pedal work is a treasure. Before the Kiss, a Redcap – the alltime great rock tribute to butyl nitrate – also comes across as more of a loud Steely Dan boogie.
Bloom is in unexpectedly strong voice through the propulsive noir art-rock anthem Screams. She’s As Beautiful As a Foot, notwithstanding the gruesome lyrics, comes across as more of an Indian-influenced psych-pop song. Cities on Flame with Rock And Roll draws muted audience response as a leaden riff-rock prototype for Godzilla, which the band slog through later.
The first album’s best song, Workshop of the Telescopes, has a raggedly phantasmagorical glory, even if the band don’t take it as far outside as the original lineup would. From there they reinvent southern rock as goth horror in Redeemed, give Dharma a long launching pad for his signature boogie, and turn in a serviceable version of the big teen-suicide anthem best covered by Bobtown.
They end the show with inspired versions of Tattoo Vampire, an icy 80s-fueled step above generic riff-rock and then a sleek take of the chugging classic Hot Rails to Hell. Wouldn’t it be cool if a hundred years from now, some Blue Oyster Cult cover band decided to play this same set. The people you love can burn your eyes out.