Concert Review - Blue Oyster Cult Live at the RockBar, San Jose, CA.

SAN JOSE, CALIFORNIA - My ear plugs are still vibrating with the sounds of Blue Oyster Cult performing live in late March, at the RockBar in San Jose, California. Passing by all the big limousines in the parking lot, I flew into the venue and right away I could sense the special attention that a radio-friendly hit, or two, can bring to any show.

Review by Camden Barbour * Photos courtesy of Blue Oyster

Blue Oyster Cult has a handful of radio-favorite songs as well as a collection of tunes that diehard fans truly treasure. Since BOC is more than a cult of long-haired metal fans, the RockBar was filled with attendees you might not see at any other rock show.

The radio presence in the lobby adds to the special atmosphere in the otherwise conventional rock club/bar/theatre. There is a slightly higher ratio of high-hair females and young couples than middle aged men in the audience at this BOC show (ok, slightly onward from “middle-aged”).

As I circle around the stage and then the “lounge” area I spot the obligatory Father and Son sitting patiently in the wing-backed chairs near the second tier bar. Obviously everyone in the RockBar is here to see BOC. Even the two opening bands are here to see Blue Oyster Cult. Both My Heavy Memories and Feather Witch (a metal band and a 70s cover band) exist because of bands like BOC. Each band was raised on FM radio hits.

I continued to circle the RockBar waiting for Blue Oyster Cult until the equipment from the second band is cleared out. I move to the floor and join the gathering. It is always fun to watch the busy last minute equipment checks before the band comes out.

The band meanders on stage to a taped-opening I didn’t recognize, until it turned into “OD’d On Life Itself” a rollicking number with two guitars and Eric Bloom singing from center stage. He looks both slick and menacing in his black leather, black sunglasses and black guitar with the BOC emblem on the front.

The second guitar player, Richie Castellano, looks like a cross between Keith Moon and Oliver Reed as he moves around in the space in front of his amp. The drummer, Jules Radino, looks uncannily like Wayne Campbell from Access Illinois. Kasim Sultan stands confidently on the right, seemingly ready for anything. Buck Dharma looks like he is either going to scold you or sell you life insurance. With his permanent beard stubble and an inscrutable expression on his face, he seems to be saying, “settle down Sonny, we’ll get to delivering the goods in our own sweet time.” I watch him play guitar and I totally believe him as he delivers the goods right before my very eyes.

Next, Buck launches into “Before the Kiss, A Redcap” and “Burning For You.” The audience knows this song very well and sings along. These two songs exemplify two great BOC styles. Sure there is bitchin’ guitars in both songs, however, “Before the Kiss” is a rowdy, almost country song where “Burning For You” has all that raucousness tamed down into an excellent pop song.

Eric nonchalantly mentions that Patti Smith co-wrote the next song “Career of Evil.” And then “Shooting Shark,” which Buck sings and Ritchie takes lead guitar, Eric Bloom is on keyboards. Buck’s voice sounds as smooth and spot-on as any of the records.

“Harvester of Eyes” is a guitar song, celebrating the guitar and the stadium chorus. The song is the story of a grim reaper of sorts, which BOC presents in a sharp drum and bass line that seems (to me) to be a fanciful “get to meet me” kind of song. All three guitars are on stage and Ritchie uses his green Music Man Axis on his side of the stage. The slightly smaller head stock of this guitar has four tuning pegs on top and two on the bottom so it looks a little unusual. Ritchie, he is such a rebel. Buck Dharma uses his Steinberger, “Cheese” Berger which has no head stock.

“Buck’s Boogie” erupts from the right side of the stage where Buck is, and the rest of the band follows suit. “ME262” could be called heavy metal in that it is a song, roughly about an airplane. BOC brings this song from their early studio album and adds a bright piano and a wickedly cool dive-bomber guitar section.

I personally can’t get enough of “Last Days of May” and I love to see it expanded with Ritchie again on guitar as he shares with Buck... and Mr. Dharma delivers the signature guitar riff with his timeless vocals. Eric plays the keys, and Kasim and Jules lock down the rhythm over which spine tingling guitar solos build into a frenzied, speeded-up ending.

Everyone wants to see “Godzilla” and it is here more quickly than I expect. Again, the riff-heavy song moves like the title character in a lumbering pace toward the center of town. It is a fun song, and one more radio hit. What we didn’t see coming was the opportunity BOC took to highlight the career of their current bass player extraordinaire.

Kasim steps forward as Eric reminds the audience which bands have benefited from Mr. Sultan’s presence. Kaz plays the catch line to Eric’s question, “Do you remember this Joan Jett song?” Kaz whips out the “I Love Rock-n-Roll” riff, then the Todd Rundgren song, “I Don’t Want to Work,” then a Meatloaf favorite. He closes with a bass solo, which runs into a drum solo and then... “Godzilla” returns.

What can be said of “Don’t Fear the Reaper” that hasn’t already been said in comedy shows? This song is one super, super radio-friendly hit.(that is my own rating btw.)

I moved around to the back of the house for the encore. The band blasted out a rocking “Red & Black,” “Hot Rails to Hell” and “Cities on Flames” in a spectacular modern sound that didn’t disappoint. The band delivered the goods and left me exhilarated. I was only sad to see them fly off again.

Opening the show was the 5-piece band My Heavy Memories and the six-piece Feather Witch, featuring two female singers.