They're as beautiful as a foot...when they kick into gear
45th Anniversary - Live In London - Blue Oyster Cult (Frontiers Music Srl)
To fully appreciate the epiphany that the cognoscenti (and especially the unwitting) experienced on their first listen of the debut album by Blue Öyster Cult, one has to remember the turgid and bleak musical landscape of 1972.
The top artists of that year are Roberta Flack, Gilbert O’Sullivan, Don McLean, Nilsson, and Sammy Davis Jr. Sure, Chuck Berry is in the charts, but that’s with “My Ding-a-Ling”. (If you bought the single, you haven’t listened to it since then.)
Alice Cooper, the psychedelia-gone-gonzo band, have set their own houses on fire and Vince Furnier has lapsed into that full slick and sterile Broadway Musical coma from which he would never recover.
What’s left of the rest of the Detroit rock fraternity are too fucked up to play.
T. Rex, Mott The Hoople, and a swag of English twats are hell bent on turning red blooded, torn Levi wearing, cowboy-booted teenage kids into pixies.
Whatever heavy rockers there are rumbling about are deeply committed to defining the genre as a lunk-headed and self indulgent soundtrack for adolescent strokers.
And as a capper, the album playing at every teenage kegger is Neil Young’s “Harvest”!
The world has become unsafe and treacherous. There is murder at the Munich Olympics and heinous perfidy at the headquarters of the Democratic national Committee at Watergate.
The Blue Öyster Cult fired a volley across the gunwales of that dreary mise en scène with a startling apocalyptic proclamation, announcing a musical superiority and intelligence that caught the rabble with dick in hand.
They were the terrifying calliope accompanying a twisted high wire act in a circus tent built by demented and malevolent carnies.
Ringmaster Eric Bloom’s cheerful arrogance roped us in with unnerving tales about Altamont, mad bikers on brutal cocktails of drugs, desert executions, and glorious redemption.
The stupifying symbiotic velocity and ferocious musical nouse of Albert and Joe Bouchard summoned a vortex of rhythm which sucked us deep into the strangely welcoming gloom.
And, then there was the epiphany that was guitarist Buck Dharma. His blisteringly melodic lines danced and turned on themselves, frighteningly clean and alarmingly on the precipice of disaster.
Allen Lanier somehow wove the chaos into a cohesive tapestry while the team of Murray Krugman and Sandy Pearlman worked an arcane magic to capture the maelstrom on tape.
It was heavy, and it was articulate and smart, and it was gloriously scary!
Fast forward to London, 2017 and the first time the band now known as Blue Öyster Cult has dipped into the deep Stygian waters of that first, most decidedly revolutionary album.
Now, it’s a fact that most once ferocious bands sporting only a few foundation members come off as sad and incompetent cover bands of their own material.
This recording of the band calling itself Blue Öyster Cult sounds like a very good, very capable, very slick tribute band playing their own material.
Through the damaged prism of time, and with specific reference to the seminal album they are playing, Bloom and Buck as arguably the most conspicuous and “important” of the original members do not BÖC make.
Still, it’s thrilling to hear them dig into those insanely electrifying songs. But, there’s something conspicuously and uncomfortably absent here.
The menacingly angular, precariously beautiful sense of danger or urgency of that recording is entirely absent in this performance.
The guitars here are modern in a bad way … precise and clinically competent, and swaddled like a flatulent baby in a thickly processed safety net.
Buck’s playing on the early albums was distinguished by stark naked, bare-assed bombastic viruosity and inhuman courage never before heard in hard rock.
Here it’s hard to extract his compellingly oblique and icy voice from the melange of effects.
As “the other guitarist” in Blue Öyster Cult, Richie Costellano is problematic. Apparently a well known proponent of a ubiquitous style known as “shredding”, that particular talent is well out of place in this context.
The Bouchards had you sitting on the edge of your seat, waiting for blood and calamity. The rhythm section here is as cleanly competent as you’d expect … Jules Radino on drums is all business, while Kasim Sulton does occasionally try to tear through the mosquito net.
Bloom’s delivery is desultory … almost bored. He almost comes alive in "Stairway To The Stars". (Here, multi instrumentalist Costellano hammers out some fetching piano which almost does bring to mind the band of old.)
In contrast to Bloom’s tired curmudgeon, Buck’s voice sounds fresh and youthful.
The band does seem to show some spark in the strangest of places. "Screams", "She’s As Beautiful As A Foot", and "Workshops of the Telescopes" sound somewhat inspired, lifting an otherwise cursory performance.
The highlight of the set is "Redeemed", the song you thought you’d never hear live. The band’s laconic, old dudes playing the classics attitude renders the song perfectly replete.
The rest of the set has them trotting out the usual “hits”. You can hear that anywhere.
Ok … it’s been 45 years since that first album. But, it really doesn’t sound like the same band at all.
Whether that’s a good or a bad thing is gonna have to be up to you.