Blue Öyster Cult

live in Sydney.

April 20, 2013, at the Hi-Fi.

Blue Oyster Cult, live in SydneyIn April of this year I was very fortunate to have the opportunity to see one of my very favorite bands, New York City’s veteran rockers Blue Öyster Cult, for the first time, on their first ever tour of Australia. I journeyed from Tasmania to Sydney to see them. Although it would have been closer, their Melbourne show wasn’t an option due to work commitments. Fortunately, the Sydney show allowed me to reunite with my younger brother (also a BOC fan) for the concert, making the experience even more memorable. In addition to such classic rock hits as “(Don’t Fear) The Reaper” and “Burnin’ for You,” BOC are noted for their influence on heavy metal, for their obscure and often fantastical lyrics, and for the blistering lead-work of guitarist Buck Dharma. The band’s current line-up includes original members Eric Bloom (vocals and “stun guitar”) and Buck Dharma (lead guitar, vocals), as well as newer additions including bassist Kasim Sulton (Utopia, Joan Jett, Patti Smith), drummer Jules Radino, and guitarist Richie Castellano.

Eric BloomAlthough the band maintained a famously heavy touring schedule (especially in the US) since they burst on to the scene in the early 70s, Australia had always eluded them. Invited to the antipodes by Australian classic rockers Hoodoo Gurus for their “Dig it Up” festival event, BOC booked additional concerts in Melbourne, Sydney and Adelaide, playing these shows in their entirety without supports. Given the band wasn’t able to tour Australia during their most commercially successful years, it’s hardly an understatement to say that fans wouldn’t have dreamed of such a treat.

Many in attendance had been fans for forty years. Then there were those of us who suspect we were simply born too late to experience live the classic rock that undergirds and dominates so much of our musical taste. Particularly when we’re talking about BOC, who contributed their share to the classic rock canon, sure, but they don’t have the big touring power that comes with it. A group of impressive influence yet also a band who enjoyed their elusive imageultimately a cult band in name and nature. Yet here they were, rewarding their hard core on a strange shore, with a gig that was always going to have special and surreal resonance.

Blue Oyster CultAll expectations were delighted by a momentous and powerful performance. The band tore through mainstays of their 70s catalogue like “The Red and the Black,” “Godzilla” and the ever-spellbinding “Then Came the Last Days of May,” as well as flashing gems from other periods of their multifaceted career, including the wistful “Shooting Shark” (from 1983’s The Revolution by Night), “The Vigil” (from the underrated Mirrors from 1979), and the screaming “Black Blade” (from 1980’s Cultosaurus Erectus). Frontman Eric Bloom commanded the stage with a veteran swagger, while gratefully acknowledging the crowd’s enthusiasm. Somewhere else in Sydney, Aerosmith and Van Halen were playing a show, one that (Bloom must have suspected) could equally have snagged the attention of the vintage rock fans in attendance. Bloom: “Thanks for coming out! I know you’ve got a lot on tonight… I hope it rains on those motherfuckers.” Although a quick glance around this crowd of glee-faced veteran rockers, many clad in faded and obscure merch from the band’s long history, would have confirmed that being elsewhere on this rare night was unthinkable.

Buck DharmaBloom-helmed standouts included “Cities on Flame with Rock and Roll” and “Me262”; for the latter he brandished his guitar like a strafing cannon to “See these English planes go burn!” Bassist Kasim Sulton, a legendary classic rocker in his own right, spellbound the crowd with his stuff during an extended solo; and an interlude paid tribute to his storied career as the whole band launched into snippets of hits by Joan Jett, Todd Rundgren and Meatloaf. Guitarist Richie Castellano continues to prove what a valuable addition to the band he is with his joyous stage energy and intricate, gorgeously melodic and laser-precise guitar solos of the variety that make long-time guitarist Buck Dharma such a figure of admiration. Buck himself was in very fine form, weaving his rich improvisational magic into tracks like “Shooting Shark” (brief video below) and “Then Came the Last Days of May.” His silky vocals remain untrammeled by his 65 years, as blissful renditions of the above indicated, as did stellar performances of hits “Burnin’ for You” and (of course) “(Don’t Fear) the Reaper”.

In recognition of his role in bringing BOC to Australia, Brad Shepherd of Hoodoo Gurus joined the band on stage during “Last Days of May” and a cover of Steppenwolf’s “Born to be Wild.” During one or the other an ecstatic front-row fan managed to get Shepherd’s ear and impart his deep thanks. Shepherd (who claims to know how to play every BOC song from their first five albums) spread a Cheshire grin as he took position to play amongst his influencers: “I’m pretty happy about it myself!” Weren’t we all.

Brief fan-shot (by me) videos below of this fantastic and rare show. (Warning: the singing audible in the second video is largely my own.)