Blue Oyster Cult/Jared James Nichols – Glasgow O2 ABC, 29/06/17 Jul07

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Blue Oyster Cult/Jared James Nichols – Glasgow O2 ABC, 29/06/17

Blue Oyster Cult/Jared James Nichols – Glasgow O2 ABC, 29/06/17

Review Cameron Arndt & Garry Murrie

Images Gary Cooper

As far as I can work out, it’s been almost ten years since Blue Oyster Cult played in Scotland. Back then they played a much smaller venue, The Ferry, whereas tonight they grace the O2 ABC up on Sauchiehall Street. Whether this apparent resurgence is due to a renewed drive within the band themselves, or indicative of a wider renaissance in the rock scene as a whole I’m not sure, but whatever the reason, their return to a big stage has clearly been highly anticipated and the ABC filled up rapidly as soon as the doors opened at 7pm.

 

Lucky that was too, as Nichols hit the stage dead on 7:30pm, and those that had turned up in time caught an energetic, pyrotechnic set from the guitar man and his tight 3 piece band – rounded out by bassist Erik Sandin and drummer, Dennis Holm. Nichols’ music is muscular, bluesy rock, chock full of heavy riffage, thick bass and snappy, crackling drums. Over this backdrop the frontman sings with perfect 70s rock style, plenty of grit and tone in there, and reminiscent of Cold Chisel’s Jimmy Barnes as he stretches for (and reaches) the high notes. Speaking of 70s rock style, the band as a whole fit that description to a T. The stage is a riot of long hair, band t-shirts and denim as they batter through an all-too short set.

 

Latest single Last Chance appears early on, it’s heavy chords are propelled by a brisk beat and garnished with a superb breakdown with super-fast repeating guitar licks leading into a scorching solo. Nichols really does have a great voice, but it’s as a guitarist he’s primarily known and on this score he doesn’t disappoint.

 

In amongst the fast soloing and subtle string bends he deploys a wonderful array of tricks and skills, playing with his left hand over the neck, tapping and slapping the guitar, and even whipping the strings with a stubborn lead at one point to elicit a reverberating chord which leads into the visceral Playin For Keeps – a thrilling, expansive track that bolts together about 3 top notch riffs, each of which could easily carry a song alone. It’s also in that number where he teases the crowd with some little snippets of classic tunes – including the Pink Panther theme which just isn’t covered enough these days!

 

The songs also recall days of old, with many moments which in which Nichols openly displays his influences, yet he fuses these into a stew of his own making and, though the set is uniformly heavy rock, there’s always a deep blues undercurrent and even a little country at points – as he cheerily informs the crowd halfway through, ‘We’re going to boogie like we’re back on the farm!’ and soon encourages everyone to sing along with Can You Feel It. It’s to his credit, and a sign of his natural charisma, that he’s successful in this endeavour, with much of the – now almost capacity – audience hollering back the latter part of the ‘Don’t you need it, baby can you feel it’ refrain.

 

Nichols and his band finish off with a cover of Mountain’s Mississippi Queen – it’s a perfect number for these guys to tackle and they deliver the scything riffs and raw, ripping vocals with boisterous enthusiasm – matched by an increasingly vocal crowd.

 

It’s a great performance in a short, early evening slot – Nichols similarly excelled supporting Glenn Hughes at The Garage earlier in the year – and you can’t help but think that a full set, perhaps in a more intimate setting, would be a rock show not to be missed. With a new record imminent, hopefully we’ll see Nichols and the band back in Glasgow again soon.

On to the main event. As with most of the bands from their era, Blue Oyster Cult have undergone many lineup changes through the years, but have been relatively stable for the last few. Although Queen + Paul Rogers (and indeed BOC) alumni Danny Miranda has stepped in on bass for Kasim Sulton (who’s currently on tour with Todd Rundgren), the long serving pair of drummer Jules Radino and keyboard/guitar player Richie Castellano are present and correct, and the axis of the band is still, as it ever has been, the duo of Eric Bloom and Buck Dharma, who trade lead vocals throughout the night.

You can’t help but be swept up in the wave of anticipation that ripples through the crowd as the Game Of Thrones theme calls the band onto the stage (surprised that’s the first time I’ve heard it used as intro music actually!). Though a loud roar greets their arrival the first couple of songs are a touch underwhelming, with the band seeming a little slow to warm up. Both Transmaniacon MC and Golden Age Of Leather are solid enough, however, with Bloom – very much the aging biker/rock star in leather jacket and wraparound shades which remain fixed over his eyes all night – taking vocals and busting out some classic 80s power grabs and motorcycle-ride pantomiming in the former, and Buck Dharma – looking somewhat more like a geography teacher (slash rock star!) in glasses and plain black shirt – leading the second and taking fiery guitar solos on both.

Golden Age… is commenced by Bloom exhorting the crowd to lift their beers up as the band recites a kind of chant or prayer to rock and roll. It’s overblown, slightly cringey, and slightly brilliant – not least thanks to the superb harmonies from the front 4 band members, whose interlocking vocals are a highlight of the night. The Glasgow crowd, of course, get right into the spirit of things. There’s plenty more slightly schlocky lyrics to come this evening – really what would 70s rock have been without motorbikes, vampires and Japanese movie monsters?

That signature BOC sound has been there right from the start, with Dharma switching between twisting low riffs and high harmonic variations on a headless guitar with a body that looks like… Swiss cheese? The moon? It’s not the coolest guitar I’ve ever seen, but his playing is superb, fluid and exciting. Meanwhile Bloom contributes his trademark ‘Stun Guitar’ playing – overlaying sections of biting chords or covering the low riff when Dharma switches up.

Things really take off, however, on the first stone cold classic of the night as Castellano picks out the opening chord of Burning For You. The fans are quick to join in with Dharma on the stellar melodic chorus and again the backing harmonies of the rest of the band are the key element which gives the song even more punch.

The newer band members are uniformly excellent, with locked in drums and bass from Radino and Miranda and exceptional multi-instrumental support from Castellano, but it’s the chemistry of Dharma and Bloom that make this band legendary. Whether supporting their comrade as they trade the vocal spotlight, or nailing dual lead singing and harmonies on tracks like the relentlessly fun Career Of Evil (a dead cert for Dr Evil to perform in any future Austin Powers film, one would think) their musical bond is almost telepathic – no surprise after leading BOC together for 45 years!

The fans are given a choice of songs, and loudly select Harvest Moon. It’s a great tune, which sees Bloom switching to keyboards while Dharma and Castellano perform a stunning guitar dual in the middle 8. You can tell the latter is a man who enjoys his job, as he contorts his face into a wild array of expressions throughout the show, clearly feeling the music enveloping him.

Things are in full swing now, with the slow start long forgotten as the mid-set fulcrum Then Came The Last Days Of May proves to be even more epic than on record, with the quiet, restrained opening section leading to a sensational solo from Castellano, behind which the band builds and builds dynamically until the lead reaches a searing peak as Radino propels the band forth with thunderous double kick.

Then, suddenly, it all drops back and Dharma steps into the spotlight for a solo of his own. For just a moment it seems that he’s erred in letting the high octane Castellano go first, as he begins with delicate string bends and subtle notes. There’s no way he’s being outdone however and, though he takes a different route – a section of speedily strummed, ever shifting chord shapes going up the guitar neck is particularly cool – he also works the band back up to a thrilling pinnacle before another sudden drop for the song’s understated but emotional dénouement.

Where to go after such a breathless journey? Blue Oyster Cult know just where, spinning on a dime to take on the hilarious but catchy Joan Crawford – preceded by an exquisite classical-influenced piano intro by that man Castellano, and capped with the spookily delivered line ‘No, no, no, Joan Crawford has risen from the grave’ causing grins to break out all around the room.

It’s not long before Bloom extravagantly cautions all assembled to listen out for danger, and the thumping, stomping, dryly witty Godzilla begins with the roars of the creature being piped through the speakers. The ludicrous lyrics (‘He picks up a bus, and throws it back down’) and awesome shouted chorus (‘Oh no, there goes Tokyo, go go Godzilla!) married to the brilliant, brutal beat are all an absolute treat, and the song, like the show, is above all FUN.

Dharma indulges in a solo guitar showcase that’s both unusual and fascinating as he uses a loop pedal to skilfully layer up sounds before breaking into actual speedy licks. As the band return and the solo fades he then plucks out the instantly recognisable chord intro to (Don’t Fear) The Reaper.

God knows we’ve all heard this one a million times if we’ve heard it once – too many times many might say – but I’ll be damned if it isn’t cool to witness it tonight. Sung smoothly by Dharma, with Bloom contributing E-Bow sounds on a guitar adorned with the Reaper himself, and more than one member of the audience ‘air-cowbell-ing’ along without irony, it’s awesome – while the mid section is even more crushingly heavy than you might remember. The band then depart for a quick pre-encore break, with euphoric cheers ringing in their ears.

They return with another epic, the vibrant, proggy and enticing Astronomy, before concluding with the straight-up, ace, crunchy 70s blues of Cities On Flame With Rock N Roll.

Watching them perform the great old cut, with the assembled throng bellowing along with the chorus, it’s almost possible to imagine what it must have been like to witness these songs played in a sweaty club by this band in their heyday. That must have been something to see (I bet a fair proportion of tonight’s crowd were there to do so!), but in 2017 it’s great to see the band still going strong – with rumours of a new album next year an intriguing proposition for sure.

Transmaniacon MC

Golden Age of Leather

Burnin’ for You

Career of Evil

Harvest Moon

Lips in the Hills

Dancin’ in the Ruins

Then Came the Last Days of May

Joan Crawford

True Confessions

Tattoo Vampire

Godzilla

Guitar Solo(Buck Dharma)

(Don’t Fear) The Reaper

Encore:

Astronomy

Cities on Flame With Rock and Roll

BOC

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