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Posts Tagged ‘Eric Bloom’

SETLIST:
The Red and the Black
The Golden Age of Leather
ME 262
Burnin’ for You
Cities on Flame
Harvest Moon
Black Blade
The Vigil
Buck’s Boogie
Last Days of May
Godzilla
Don’t Fear the Reaper

Encore:
Hot Rails to Hell

The saying “feast or famine” comes to mind when referring to Blue Öyster Cult live appearances, at least in my particular case. After having missed the band countless times in the past few years, finally in 2011 I had the opportunity to see them not once, but twice – a rare occurrence indeed.  The 25-year wait had wetted my appetite, and, not surprisingly, my review of their February 12 gig at Baltimore’s Bourbon Street was coached in glowing terms. In spite of  the loss of their status as one of the biggest draws in the world of “stadium rock”, accompanied by constant line-up changes,  the legendary outfit could still deliver the goods – and then some.

This time around, the concert was scheduled to take place in a real, old-fashioned theatre, one of the most popular institutions in the Washington DC metro area – a handsome Art Deco building that has been providing musical entertainment to capital dwellers for over 70 years. While the State Theatre has frequently hosted BÖC performances in the past, their last appearance there dated back from early 2008 – meaning that those who had not wanted to travel to Maryland to catch them in the past three years were definitely chomping at the bit. The theatre – a roomy, white-walled, high-ceilinged space with about 200 comfortable seats in the balcony, a small standing area in front of the stage, and a number of dining tables at the main level for those who want to combine the pleasures of music with those of food. Indeed, the smell of chili wafting upwards from the dining area and the happy noise of the diners made for a rather distinctive experience. With well-stocked bars and spacious common areas, the theatre allows for social interaction – unlike the average music club, where the dim lighting and loud volume of the background music often get in the way of conversation.

Even if for BÖC the days of  massive, state-of-the-art light shows and special effects are gone, to paraphrase one of their songs they certainly do not go through the motions whenever they are on stage. The attendance reflected their reputation as one of their best live acts around – even if  the lack of a record deal has prevented them from releasing any new material following 2001’s Curse of the Hidden Mirror. For a long-time BÖC fan like me, it was heartwarming to see people of all ages flock to the State Theatre. A guy sitting in the balcony, not far from us, had brought his young son (a boy of around 7-8 years of age), and there were also a lot of women – many more that at the average progressive rock concert. Anticipation ran high among the crowd, and the short opening set by six-piece Midnight Hike – an enthusiastic though not particularly impressive local outfit, very much in the alt-rock vein – was greeted with polite indifference. I could not help being a bit jealous of the lucky denizens of the New York area that, the night before, had been able to witness a double bill that also involved Uriah Heep, another legendary band that can still deliver in spades.

After the opening set, the stage was rearranged in short order, and at around 9 p.m. a volley of rather scary electronics (referencing some of the band’s best-known material) signaled the entrance of the long-awaited heroes of the evening. This time, charismatic frontman Eric Bloom was very much on board – relieving the burden that had been placed on Buck Dharma on the Baltimore date – and in fine shape, his witty banter (which included a couple of fleeting but rather barbed political references) adding spice to the musical offer. Bassist Rudy Sarzo, on the other hand, was engaged with Dio Disciples (who were playing the last date of their US tour), and was replaced by an old acquaintance of BÖC fans, Emmy winner Jon Rogers, who cut a dashing figure with his bobbed silver hair, dark shades and bright red bass guitar.

The almost 90-minute set included the inevitable “Godzilla”, “Hot Rails to Hell” and “Don’t Fear the Reaper”, which are always great to hear in a live setting. However, as much as I love BÖC’s out-and-out rockers, I found the central part of the concert, dedicated to some of their longer, more complex songs, especially satisfying. Besides the UFO-themed “The Vigil”, with its enthralling blend of the melodic and the sinister, and the deceptively catchy “Harvest Moon”, with its suggestion of disturbing Stephen King-like happenings in a quiet country town (perfectly rendered by the intense guitar bridge), we were treated to rousing versions of the towering biker epic “The Golden Age of Leather” and the BÖC-meets-Hawkwind space saga “Black Blade” – inspired by the Elric of Melniboné tales by British fantasy/sci-fi author Michael Moorcock.

Though, the set was not as Buck-centric as in Baltimore, when the guitarist had had to perform Eric Bloom’s role as well as his own, the pocket-sized six-stringer delighted the audience with his stunning, yet remarkably understated skills. The magnificent coda to “Cities on Flame” erupted after the audience had been teased with a series false starts; while the heart-stopping second half of the solo of “Last Days of May” – played at almost impossible speed – contrasted Buck Dharma’s cool, collected approach with Richie Castellano’s textbook-shredder performance (announced by Bloom with his customary deadpan humour). After Castellano had thrown the expected guitar-hero shapes and extracted all sorts of wailing sounds from his guitar, Buck unleashed his full firepower with effortless grace. Bloom and Castellano alternated behind the keyboard rig, with a particularly impressive organ run bolstering Buck’s guitar exertions in the splendid instrumental tour de force of “Buck’s Boogie”. While Buck’s politely melodic voice is still perfectly in command, Bloom’s gruff bellow has lost a bit of his edge: however, his delivery on the dramatic “Black Blade” was as effective as ever.

Though BÖC delivered a top-notch performance, the quality of the sound was somewhat disappointing, and took some of the punch out of the guitar-based songs, such as opener “The Red and The Black”, while the drums were occasionally too loud in the mix. Though I was elated by the inclusion of some of my personal favourites, I agreed with my husband when he stated that he had found the Baltimore gig more involving. I would also be happy if the band considered delving deeper into their peerless back catalogue, including some of their more complex, multilayered songs in their sets and retiring the likes of “Godzilla” or “Burnin’ for You” at least for a while. On the whole, however, in spite of this minor quibbling, it was an evening of great music from one of the greatest bands in the history of rock. It is to be hoped that their recording deal woes will end as soon as possible, allowing them to release some long-overdue new material.

Links:
http://www.blueoystercult.com

 


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As the name of this blog should make it quite clear, I have been a major Blue Öyster Cult fan for the past 30 years or so. They are one of the very few acts whose complete discography I own, and their albums are a constant presence in my CD player. On the other hand, my love for them is something that I would be hard put to explain. How can a long-time follower of progressive rock be so keen on a band whose output is generally recognized as tangential to prog at best, and be instead rather indifferent to the widely-worshipped likes of Genesis?

Called anything from ‘the American Black Sabbath’ (even though they actually sound nothing like Iommi’s crew) to ‘the thinking man’s heavy metal band’ (as if metal was the sole prerogative of Neanderthals) throughout the almost 40 years of their career, BÖC managed to achieve a measure of stardom through their mega-hit “Don’t Fear the Reaper” and another couple of very successful songs. For a number of years, between the late Seventies and the early Eighties, they played to sold-out arenas before they entered a stage of apparently unstoppable decline (at least as regards commercial success) – which led them to lose their deal with Sanctuary Records, so that their latest studio album, Curse of the Hidden Mirror, was released almost ten years ago.

Blue Öyster Cult are one of those rare bands who appeal to both mind and body, capable of dishing out powerful rockers and catchy radio anthems, as well as complex, thought-provoking compositions with more than a nod to progressive rock – often in the space of a single album. Even if, over the years, they have lost three of their original members (the Bouchard brothers and keyboardist Allen Lanier, who retired from the music scene a few years ago), they have soldiered on, impervious to the setbacks, and delivering the goods whenever on stage. In spite of their lack of a recording deal (and consequently any new material), they have never stopped touring, even if the only two founding members left, Eric Bloom and Donald “Buck Dharma” Roeser, are in their mid-sixties, and are still a major draw for American and European audiences – as proved yesterday evening by the crowd that greeted them at Baltimore’s Bourbon Street.

Though it can hardly be denied that the quaintly-named venue in downtown Baltimore is quite unlike the arenas that BÖC used to fill back in their heyday, the reception that the band got yesterday evening was as warm and enthusiastic as it was in those years, and probably even more so. A friendly, welcoming space on the ground floor of a Victorian red brick building, with plenty of room for standing (as well as a few stools and tables for those needing to rest their legs) and well-stocked bars lining the walls, the Ballroom at Bourbon Street possesses all the character lacking in those more comfortable, yet soulless arenas without being disreputable – with a raised stage that allows most people (even short ones like me) to see what is going on, excellent sound quality (loud enough without being deafening – no ear plugs needed!), and a respectable capacity. My only quibble would concern those people seemingly unable to stay put for more than five minutes, who kept walking from the stage to the exit and back to the stage area, bumping into me or forcing me to move aside while I was trying to enjoy the show.

I had seen Blue Öyster Cult play live only once before, 25 years ago. about this time of the year 1986, and the gig was in doubt almost to the last minute due to severe weather conditions – since the venue was basically a large circus-like tent, and the snow that, very uncharacteristically for Rome, had fallen quite heavily threatened to collapse the roof. The band was touring in support of what is widely considered as their weakest album – Club Ninja – and minus Allen Lanier. In spite of that, they delivered a blinder of a performance, whose highlight for me was the 8-minute version of “Veteran of the Psychic Wars”, one of my top 10 songs of all time. After a lengthy hiatus from music due to a series of changes in my personal circumstances,  in the past few years I managed to miss the band some four or five times, which left me understandably frustrated. So, when yesterday they took to the stage at around 9.30 p.m. (after a short opening set by young Canadian blues-rocker Luke Mulholland and his band), you can imagine my disappointment when I realized that they were one member short – and the missing person was none other than charismatic frontman Eric Bloom.

However, my disappointment lasted only through the first song  (“Before the Kiss, A Redcap”, from their 1972 self-titled debut). Buck Dharma fulfilled the role of frontman suddenly thrust onto him by Bloom’s illness with enviable aplomb, a seasoned professional with an endearingly humorous approach, whose smooth, well-mannered voice has held up amazingly well. Obviously, the setlist was heavily biased towards Buck’s own compositions, which of course ruled out such behemoths as the aforementioned “Veteran…”, “Black Blade” or “Seven Screamin’ Dizbusters”, where Bloom’s gruff, supercharged bellow would be an essential ingredient. In any case, even in the absence of those weightier numbers, the band played a well-rounded 90-minute set (which nowadays is the average length of a live performance), presenting the audience with a nice selection of some of the most iconic songs of their career. For those who are curious, here is the complete setlist:

  1. Before the Kiss, A Redcap
  2. Burnin’ for You
  3. Shooting Shark
  4. Buck’s Boogie
  5. The Vigil
  6. The Red and the Black
  7. Last Days of May
  8. Godzilla
  9. Don’t Fear the Reaper
  10. Hot Rails to Hell (encore)

I had heard great things about Rudy Sarzo, and his performance of yesterday night confirmed that – far from being a showy hair-metal reject – he is a very accomplished bassist, with a commanding stage presence, looking not a day older than he was in his tenure as a member of Quiet Riot and Whitesnake, in spite of having turned 60 at the end of last year. His solo spot in the middle of “Godzilla” was introduced by Buck Dharma in his typical deadpan style, and carried off in a remarkably original manner, including snippets of famous songs from his former bands: in particular, the opening riff to Dio’s “Holy Diver” was cheered enthusiastically by the crowd. Moreover, his masterful handling of the bass part of “Shooting Shark” (originally written for Randy “The Emperor” Jackson) was probably the highlight of his whole performance. The band’s two newest members, drummer Jules Radino and keyboardist/guitarist Richie Castellano (who, when wearing sunglasses, bore an uncanny resemblance to a younger Eric Bloom), acquitted themselves admirably, being both accomplished musicians in spite of their young age. Castellano took up Bloom’s role on both guitar and vocals when needed, while Radino provided a perfect complement to Sarzo’s stunning bass lines – not a mere skin-basher, but also capable of the subtlety required by some of the band’s songs.

However, the star of the whole evening was none other than Buck Dharma himself. He stole the show with his warm, affectionate banter, accomplished singing, and incredible guitar work. Though highly rated by experts and worshipped by fans,  he gets far too easily overlooked whenever accolades for best rock or metal guitarist are awarded – in favour of other, much flashier six-stringers who simply cannot match his sheer expressive power coupled with remarkable technical skill. At the end of a week that marked the untimely passing of another guitar icon like Gary Moore,  seeing Buck perform was nothing short of sheer delight. Diminutive and unassuming, all dressed in black and sporting his trademark moustache, he tore the place down without resorting to those cheap gimmicks that are so popular with the ‘shredder’ crowd. The absolutely jaw-dropping version of “Last Days of May” (one of the most beautiful BÖC songs bar none) was alone worth the price of admission, with its customary extended solo section blisteringly introduced by Castellano, then gradually picking up speed and unleashing a frenzied yet amazingly disciplined Buck solo that saw him drop on his knees, backed by Radino’s relentless drumming – to the audience’s ecstatic response. In comparison, his instrumental showcase “Buck’s Boogie”, though quite stunningly rendered, felt almost sedate. The obligatory “The Red and the Black”, “Don’t Fear the Reaper” and “Hot Rails to Hell”, delivered with energy and flair, did not disappoint either, while the subdued, yet subtly malevolent “The Vigil” provided a taste of the more intricate fare that BÖC have produced alongside their catchier, more straightforward tunes.

All in all, it was a great evening of music in a friendly, almost intimate setting. Even if some might think that playing a small venue like the Bourbon Street Ballroom is a sort of downgrading for rock legends like Blue Öyster Cult, the faceless arenas where most of today’s ‘big-league’ concerts take place cannot compete with the genuine warmth and community feeling of those smaller, unpretentious spaces. It is quite obvious that all of the band members love performing in front of an audience, since they do not come across for a second as a bunch of people going through the motions – and, even one man short, they could deliver the goods in a way that many of the above-mentioned ‘big-league’ outfits can only dream of. Needless to say, I will be eagerly waiting for the next time BÖC will play in our area. Indeed, yesterday’s gig was worth the 25-year wait.

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TRACKLISTING:
1. I Am The One You Warned Me Of  (5:04)
2. Les Invisibles (5:33)
3. In The Presence Of Another World  (6:26)
4. Del Rio’s Song  (5:31)
5. The Siege And Investiture Of Baron Von Frankenstein’s Castle At Weisseria (6:43)
6. Astronomy  (6:47)
7. Magna Of Illusion  (5:53)
8. Blue Öyster Cult  (7:18)
9. Imaginos  (5:46)

LINEUP:
Eric Bloom –  vocals
Albert Bouchard –  guitar, percussion, vocals
Joe Bouchard –  keyboard, vocals
Allen Lanier –  keyboards
Donald “Buck Dharma” Roeser –  guitars, vocals

With:
Kenny Aaronson – bass
Thommy Price –  drums
Jack Secret –  additional vocals
Tommy Moringiello –  guitars
Jack Rigg –  guitars
Tommy Zvoncheck –  keyboards
Shocking U – backing vocals (3)
Joey Cerisano – additional lead vocal (5)
Jon Rogers – additional lead vocal (9)
Daniel Levitin –  additional backing vocals
Marc Biederman –  guitar
Kevin Carlson –  guitar
Robby Krieger – lead guitar (7,8)
Daniel Levitin –  guitar
Aldo Nova – guitar
Joe Satriani –  lead guitar (5)

Back from my well-deserved vacation, I am quite ready to resume my reviewing duties as regards both new and older material.  Though I have a couple of reviews of recent releases in the works, I would like to devote the first slot of the new year to what is possibly the most intriguing album by the band that brought us the original Fire of Unknown Origin (pun unintended).

Just before Imaginos was released, the mighty Blue Oyster Cult had been in disarray, a shadow of their former powerful selves. With the departure of some key members, the spark seemed gone forever – as witnessed by their previous, rather lacklustre release, 1986’s Club Ninja, held by many as their weakest recording effort. However, the completion of this 20-year-long project (originally conceived by drummer Albert Bouchard and mastermind Sandy Pearlman) brought the original members of the band together for what was destined to be their last great album (in some ways, even their masterpiece), and certainly one of their most progressive offerings.

The very elaborate concept behind Imaginos was at least partly inspired by HP Lovecraft’s Cthulhu Mythos, and crafted in order to provide an ‘alternative’ explanation for the onset of World War One.  The titular character is a ‘modified child’ with supernatural abilities, whose story is told (though not in chronological order) in the nine songs on the album, and foreshadowed on two songs featured on 1974’s Secret Treaties – “Subhuman” and “Astronomy”. Both appear on Imaginos, the latter with a different musical arrangement (in my view inferior to the original, and way too ‘Eighties’ for my tastes), the former rewritten as “Blue Oyster Cult”.

Such an intriguing, grandiose concept needed to be implemented accordingly. Therefore, the five members of the band brought on board a number of other musicians, including the ‘Guitar Orchestra of the State of Imaginos’, an impressive array of lead guitarists that included The Doors’ Robbie Krieger (who had already guested on BOC’s “ET Live”), and six-string wizard Joe Satriani. The result is a rich, majestic sound that fits the storyline like a glove, immediately noticeable from the first strains of opener “I Am the One You Warned Me Of,” which sets things off with a bang. In comparison to the somewhat limp-wristed nature of the band’s previous two efforts, The Revolution by Night and Club Ninja,  an exhilarating sense of energy can be  clearly perceived here. Even the more accessible numbers, like the sax-driven title-track, which closes the album on a somewhat cheerful note, in spite of its rather disturbing lyrics, or the even more upbeat “Del Rio’s Song” (possibly the album’s weakest link) seem to barge in with an assertiveness approached by none of the compositions appearing on either of the above-mentioned releases.

Vocalist Eric Bloom – one of the most distinctive (and underrated) voices in rock – is at the top of his game, belting out the obscure lyrics with self-assured forcefulness. On the rousing “The Siege and Investiture of Baron von Frankenstein’s Castle at Weisseria”, though, Bloom is replaced by guest singer Joey Cerisano; the song climaxes with a haunting chorus of “World without end”, and Joe Satriani’s blistering solo makes it even more memorable. Buck Dharma’s well-mannered voice does the honours on “Les Invisibles” – though the song itself is anything but reassuring, with its sinister synth effects and guitar work, and its insistent, almost obsessive repetition of the word ‘seven’; while “In the Presence of Another World” is a dark-hued mid-tempo, almost ballady at times, with a thundering, yet oddly catchy chorus stating that “Your master is a monster”.

The true highpoint of the album, however, comes  in the second half, with the double whammy of “Magna of Illusion” and “Blue Oyster Cult”. The former, named after the mysterious obsidian mirror that Desdinova (the new name given to Imaginos by his rescuers, the human servants of ‘the Invisible Ones’) finds in a jungle in the Yucatan, and which, kept for twenty years in his attic, poisons the minds of European leaders before the outbreak of WWI, is a triumphal, keyboard- and guitar-laden march related from the point of view of the protagonist’s granddaughter. “Blue Oyster Cult”, on the other hand, is as creepily addictive as its earlier version, “Subhuman”, with an anthemic close celebrating the occult nature of the band’s name as originally conceived by Sandy Pearlman.

Many BOC albums boast outstanding cover artwork, and Imaginos is no exception – the über-Gothic Victorian mansion (a San Francisco landmark burned to the ground in 1907)  poised on a cliff on the background of a stormy sky aptly conveying the sense of mystery and menace implicit in the whole story.  At any rate, despite its Eighties-style production (rather evident, for instance, in the drum sound), this is an album of epic proportions that will appeal to both hard rock and progressive rock fans – a much-needed reminder of the greatness and unique approach of this seminal band.

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Tracklisting: 1. Fire Of Unknown Origin (4:11) 2. Burnin’ For You (4:30) 3. Veteran Of The Psychic Wars (4:50) 4. Sole Survivor (4:04) 5. Heavy Metal: The Black And Silver (3:19) 6. Vengeance (The Pact) (4:41) 7. After Dark (4:25) 8. Joan Crawford (4:54) 9. Don’t Turn Your Back (4:02) Lineup: Eric Bloom – lead vocals, bass (5) Donald “Buck Dharma” Roeser –  lead guitar, vocals, bass (8) Joseph Bouchard – bass, vocals Allen Lanier-  keyboards Albert Bouchard – drums, synthesizer, vocals Though it may not be the peak of originality, I would like to inaugurate my blog by posting a review of the album from which it takes its name. Released almost 30 years ago, the wonderfully-titled Fire of Unknown Origin counts as a firm favourite of mine – strange as it may sound to those who may not find it anything special, or even think it borders too much on AOR territory for comfort. However, it also contains a few songs that I would not hesitate to call masterpieces, as well as superb artwork, and a genuinely progressive vibe (though you should not expect anything resembling Yes or Genesis, of course). Fire of Unknown Origin features a major hit in “Burnin’ for You”, written and interpreted by criminally underrated guitarist Donald “Buck Dharma” Roeser – a catchy little number that got the band a lot of airplay at the time of the album’s release. Though a more straightforward (and also more openly commercial) composition than the legendary  “Don’t Fear the Reaper”,  it is still AOR with a bite, unlike some of the band’s later output. The other songs, however, are a different story – starting with the title-track, its  typically cryptic lyrics penned by punk muse Patti Smith (who was in a long-term relationship with keyboardist Allen Lanier). A fine showcase for Lanier’s skills,  it straddles the line between sophistication and commercial potential. The album’s standout track, however, is the magnificent  “Veteran of the Psychic Wars”, written by vocalist Eric Bloom together with English fantasy writer Michael Moorcock (also known for his collaboration with Hawkwind), who in the previous couple of years had provided lyrics for two other BOC  songs, “Black Blade” and “The Great Sun Jester”.   As good as those two tracks are, “Veteran” is in a different league – definitely one of the band’s classics, and one of those songs that, right from day one, have held a constant appeal for me, especially in some difficult moments of my life: “My energy is spent at last/And my armour is destroyed/And I’ve used up all my weapons/And I’m helpless and bereaved….” A slowly but powerfully surging composition, it features a killer guitar solo by Roeser, and a haunting drum pattern that was probably inspired by Peter Gabriel’s equally riveting “Intruder”. Like most of the album, the song was originally written for the soundtrack of the animated film Heavy Metal, but was the only one to eventually feature in its final version. While “Sole Survivor”, featuring former Meat Loaf vocalist Karla DeVito, and the upbeat but somewhat weak  “After Dark”  follow the AOR-inclined path of “Burning for You”, the eerie, ominous “Vengeance (The Pact)”, and the dramatic “Joan Crawford” present the listener with frequent time changes, lush musical textures and intense, forceful vocals. The album closes with the soothing vocal harmonies, layered bass and keyboard lines of the deceptively catchy “Don’t Turn Your Back”,  whose lyrics  (not surprisingly for the band) deal with the subject of death. Like its predecessor, the excellent Cultosaurus ErectusFire of Unknown Origin was produced by hard-rock icon Martin Birch, who in those years would also revive Black Sabbath’s flagging career – and then proceed to make stars out of Iron Maiden. With great clarity of sound, sterling performances from all the band members, powerfully emotional vocals, and intriguing  lyrics, it ranks undoubtedly as one of BOC’s best offerings. Though not as strongly cohesive as their third release, the stunning Secret Treaties, it is nevertheless highly recommended to all fans of vintage classic rock with a progressive bent.

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