“ON YOUR FEET, OR ON YOUR KNEEEEEES! HERE THEY ARE, THE AMAZING BLUE – ÖYSTER – CULT!”
Ah, days of my youth. It’s over 40 years since I first saw Blue Öyster Cult, at the old Odeon Cinema in Edinburgh. There’s no Patti Smith howling the introduction tonight, like she did on their first live album. There’s no laser extravaganza either. But I tell you what, BÖC still put on a damn good live show.
These days this is less a matter of spectacle, and more because of the awesome repertoire they’re able to draw on. And that repertoire is delightfully schizoid, ranging from stuff that’s constructed on lead-heavy, bone-crunching riffs, through elements of blues boogie, to songs that grab you with vocal harmonies and sublime, surprisingly pop-rock hooks. And the fact that they walk onstage to the theme from Game Of Thrones is emblematic of lyrics that can be cryptic, gothic, cinematic, and often downright funny.
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The twin founding members Eric Bloom and Donald “Buck Dharma” Roeser are still the spearhead of the operation – as Buck says, they’ve been compadres for 50 years now, and there are some signs of the ageing process. Bloom’s gruff voice strains for some of the notes nowadays, on ‘Unknown Tongue’ for example, and he doesn’t so much prowl the stage as potter around it. But he can still rock shades and a leather jacket the same as in days of old. Roeser is a little greyer, a little portlier maybe, but it has to be said his lighter, airier singing voice sounds just the same as ever. And he continues to be one helluva guitarist.
So it is that on something like ‘The Golden Age Of Leather’ you get an a capella intro, then three guitars grinding away – Bloom’s, Buck’s and that of new sideman Richie Castellano – plus four part harmonies, and typically intricate little licks being scattered around by Dharma. And I wouldn’t even classify this as one of the highlights.
‘Burning For You’ however, is a classic of their melodic side, with a truly great hook that has plenty punters near me happily singing the chorus to themselves, and wonderfully fluid guitar from Buck. On the other hand ‘Harvester Of Eyes’ is a trademark heavy affair, with a seismic rumble of a riff, and Roeser and Castellano getting together on guitar harmonies.
‘Shooting Shark’ isn’t really from my preferred vintage, but they still manage to elevate it from catchy-but-a-bit-wet status to something gripping – Buck decorates the intro with a stunning throwaway solo, Castellano gets his own chance to shine, and then Dharma comes to the fore again with a display of dazzling playing, full of inventiveness and musicality, delivered from his trademark pose, slightly crouched and with one foot forward on an effects pedal.
‘E.T.I.’ gets a big, deserved cheer, with a ringing riff duet revving up its latter segment while current drummer Jules Radino flays his kit big time. Then it’s time for ‘Buck’s Boogie’, on which Dharma demonstrates that aimless noodling is not his thing. From a guitar and keys (also Castellano) call and response section it progresses like a miniature suite of signature guitar motifs, and into a spell of harmonic exchanges with bassist Danny Miranda. By which time they’ve made an hour simply fly past.
‘Last Days Of May’ lets Richie Castellano off the leash again, for an impressively twiddly, echoed solo. He’s a good fit, and in many another band he’d be the full-on axe hero. But in this outfit he can only be junior to the dapper little gent at centre stage, as Buck illustrates with a fierce solo.
They head for the home stretch with the supermonster riff of the epic ‘Godzilla’, before closing the set proper by unfurling ‘(Don’t Fear) The Reaper’, on which Bloom mischievously mimes a bit of cowbell playing, and by the time they’ve finished the guitar wig-out ending I’m thinking ‘Hotel California’ is a bit tame by comparison.
‘Dancing In The Ruins’ seems like a strangely poppy choice for the first encore, though it evidently makes some folk happy. More to my liking is ‘Hot Rails To Hell’, on which Castellano gets to run wild in addition to taking the lead vocal. It’s poundingly anthemic – but not half as much as the concluding ‘Cities On Flame With Rock’n’Roll’, on which there’s a pregnant pause while Buck grins and cracks his knuckles in readiness for the explosive ending, on which the three guitars and bass line up at the front of the stage in time honoured fashion.
There’s no guitar-clashing ‘Born To Be Wild’ finale, and no room for ‘The Marshall Plan’, or ‘Joan Crawford’ or ‘Astronymy’ . . . or . . . I could go on. Which is a shame, but as someone once said, you can’t always get what you want. But even without all of those classics, Blue Öyster Cult can still produce two hours worth of what you need.
And as an added bonus, they have The Temperance Movement opening for them, which
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And they’re off, with a stomping bass drum triggering ‘Only Friend’. By the time they’re done with ‘Caught In The Middle’ with its chopping riff, Campbell is taking his shoes off, and as they get wired into ‘The Way It Was And The Way It Is Now’ he’s in full flight – a kinetic, madcap, Iggy-spindly, apparently double-jointed presence.
Campbell may be the focal point, but he’s the focal point of a forceful rock’n’roll band. ‘Ain’t No Telling’ features interleaved licks from guitarists Paul Sayer and Matt White, over groove drumming from Simon Lea, ahead of wailing solos from both guitarists.
And so they go on, piling on the winners. There’s a rock’n’rolling intro to ‘Take It Back’, with its “Woah-oh-oh-oh” pub singalong, southern rock guitar strains on the intro to ‘Another Spiral’, and a strung out blend of guitars on ‘A Deeper Cut’, with Lea hunched over, deep in the pocket, and Paul Sayer adding a chiming solo.
The Temperance Movement are one of Britain’s best contemporary rock bands. Phil Campbell is absolutely one of British rock’s most captivating front men. They take some old-style rock’n’roll vibes and yank them into the 21stCentury. They’re the business, and hopefully this support slot has recruited another battalion to their fan base.