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Concert review: Phoenix still burns for Blue Öyster Cult

Blue Öyster Cult in concert, April 26, 2014, Phoenix, AZ
Blue Öyster Cult in concert, April 26, 2014, Phoenix, AZBecky Hansen

Blue Öyster Cult in concert, April 26, 2014, Phoenix, AZ

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For most classic rock groups, there appear to be two types of fans. The first sect, the diehard, is familiar with almost everything a group has put out. The second, the casual, is aware of a band’s radio hits and not much more. Both groups were represented at Blue Öyster Cult’s ninety five minute show at The Pressroom in downtown Phoenix on Saturday night, April 26, 2014. Fortunately for both sets of fans, Blue Öyster Cult (BÖC for the diehards), accommodated both.

Blue Öyster Cult in concert, April 26, 2014, Phoenix, AZ
Blue Öyster Cult in concert, April 26, 2014, Phoenix, AZBecky Hansen

The diehards got the better deal. If you bought BÖC’s 1976 album, “Agents of Fortune,” because you liked “(Don’t Fear) the Reaper,” yes, you got to hear that song live, but you also got to hear “This Ain’t The Summer of Love” from the same album. Purchased BÖC’s follow up album, “Spectres,” because you liked “Godzilla?” Of course the band played that, but they also played song two from the record, “Golden Age of Leather.”

Admittedly, today’s version of BÖC is not the same as it was in the 1970’s with only Eric Bloom and Donald “Buck Dharma” Roeser remaining from BÖC’s most popular line up. But most classic rock groups go through personnel changes and BÖC is doing quite nicely with Bloom, Roeser, drummer Jules Radino, bass player Kasim Sulton and for the Phoenix performance, guitarist Andy Ascolese filling in for regular BÖC guitarist, Richie Castelleno.

The evening began with “The Red & the Black,” from BÖC’s 1973 release, “Tyranny and Mutation,” (and probably better known from its version on the live album, 1975’s, “On Your Feet or on Your Knees”). Buck Dharma did what he does best, jaw dropping guitar solos, something he would do all night long. Why his name rarely comes up when discussing rock and roll’s greatest guitarists is a mystery.

Those that had them, raised their cans (really aluminum bottles) of beer on high as Bloom and company sang the a cappella beginning to “Golden Age of Leather,” before again launching an assault on the senses with the three guitar attack from Roeser, Ascolese and Bloom. The head banging in the audience had begun.

The casual fan got their first dose of recognition as Roeser took over lead vocals for “Burnin’ For You.” Now cell phones replaced the cans of beer on high so as to record the performance and many in the audience sang along.

The diehards then got their turn as Bloom introduced a song “they don’t do too often,” “Dancin’ in the Ruins,” off of the sadly overlooked 1985 album, “Club Ninja.” More great deep cuts continued. “Harvest Moon,” from 1998’s “Heaven Forbid” album, featured some great harmony and would have been a mainstay of FM radio play had the song come out twenty years earlier.

From another woefully overlooked album, “Mirrors” (1979), BÖC performed “The Vigil.” The duel guitars of Buck Dharma and Andy Ascolese had those familiar with the song banging their heads to the beat.

The momentum built up by the lesser known tunes continued with “ME262,” the Bloom/Roeser composition off of “Secret Treaties.” For the diehards, this is a must play song at every BÖC concert.
Arms were raised and fists were pumped towards the guitar fury released by Dharma, Ascolese and Bloom.

With an interesting insight about the song’s origin, a drug deal gone bad, south of Tucson, Dharma introduced “Then Came the Last Days of May.” Once again the guitar mastery of Dharma and Ascolese was featured, both guitarists earning loud ovations for their work

Bloom’s best line of the night, “another movie without the song,” and his rant regarding creatures that used to walk the Earth had the crowd amped for the opening chords of “Godzilla.” Plenty in the crowd sang “oh no, they say he’s got to go,” while thrusting their arms into the air.

The song gave way to an introduction of bassist Kasim Sulton, with snippets of work he has done with other bands, “I Love Rock and Roll” (Joan Jett & the Blackhearts), “Bang on the Drum All Day” (Utopia) and “Paradise By the Dashboard Light” (MeatLoaf) played before he broke into a bass guitar solo. The solos continued with drummer Jules Radino getting to show off his manic drumming skills without three guitarists in his way.

Buck Dharma got in one more amazing guitar solo before the band closed the regular set with “(Don’t Fear) the Reaper.” Although there was not the huge sing-a-long one might have expected, the song was another audience favorite.

After enough chants of “BÖC,” the band returned for “ “Hot Rails to Hell,” and “Cities on Flame With Rock and Roll.” The former song thrust Ascolese into the spotlight as he was featured as the lead vocalist. The latter song ended with one final Buck Dharma guitar work of art.

Blue Öyster Cult still remains a collection of great musicians with an awesome body of work to choose from. Casual fans may wonder what the heck they’ve gotten themselves into when Dharma, Bloom, Ascolese (or Castelleno), Sulton and Radino let go on stage. Diehards already know. We understand, we understand, Blue Öyster Cult.

Set List:
Intro: Game Of Thrones Main Title | The Red & The Black | Golden Age Of Leather | Burnin’ For You | Dancin’ In The Ruins | This Ain’t The Summer Of Love | Harvest Moon | The Vigil | ME262 | Then Came The Last Days of May | Godzilla (including Kasim Sulton introduction, parts of I Love Rock And Roll, Bang The Drum All Day and Paradise By The Dashboard Light; Kasim Sulton bass solo; Jules Radino drum solo) | Buck Dharma guitar solo | (Don’t Fear) The Reaper | Encore: Hot Rails To Hell| Cities On Flame With Rock and Roll