BLUE ÖYSTER CULT – iHeart Radio Theater N.Y.C. 2012

In 2012, Blue Öyster Cult released ‘The Columbia Albums Collection’, a seventeen disc set rounding up their output for the label between 1973 and 1988. It was a set that was worth picking up even for those that owned some of the albums previously, as it also included a couple of discs of rarities. For a limited time, owners could even access four previously unreleased live shows via the BÖC website, which was a definite sweetener for those who’d bought ‘Agents of Fortune’, ‘Spectres’ and ‘Some Enchanted Evening’ a couple of times over already.

To promote the box set, the band held a one-off concert in New York. Finally released as ‘Iheart Radio 2012’ in the summer of 2020, when heard retrospectively, it isn’t a perfect set by any means, though it has enough to recommend it. Capturing the band in front of a select audience of 200 fans, the recording could have had a similarly flat atmosphere to ‘Agents of Fortune – 2016’ (released via Frontiers Records in early 2020), but due to not being tied to such a rigid setlist, founders Donald “Buck Dharma” Roeser and Eric Bloom, along with bassist Kasim Sulton, guitarist Richie Castallano and drummer Jules Radino, sound much less like a band going through the motions (no pun intended).

Instant highlights include an especially punchy ‘Golden Age of Leather’ – a classic tune played with vigour – and ‘Burnin’ For You’, an early 80s number that manages to capture the spirit of the more commercial BÖC really well almost everytime it’s played. ‘Golden Age…’ works especially well on this occasion due to a hefty bass sound and a brave attempt at some complex harmonies. In lots of ways, it’s the ultimate showcase for this line up of the band. Everyone sounds enthused throughout, but particularly so when hammering through the track’s faster sections. The “ritual thief” bit, in particular, conveys a band who are still capable of rocking hard and the various twiddly riffs are played with a particular fervour.

Unafraid to be cheesy, the small crowd are encouraged to shout for ‘Godzilla’ before BÖC launch into the huge stomper of the same name. The combination of guitar howls and vocal sneers during the verse come close enough to showing the rockier side of BÖC at its best, even if the chorus vocals sound simultaneously off-key and a bit…embarrassing. Still, looking at it positively, at least it’s obvious that this recording is genuinely live. Sulton drops in a brief funk bass interlude, with which he lifts the musical qualities a little further, and that alone is enough to make this particular take worth hearing. ‘Career of Evil’ manages to be relatively menacing despite the smaller size of the venue and crowd, largely thanks to an angry dual vocal pitched against a great riff, and years of experience allows the tune to sound relatively fresh. ‘Don’t Fear The Reaper’ shows off great backing vocals throughout and the quality of the recording allows the (over)familiar riff to ring out brilliantly. Strangely, those years of experience never seem to help ‘This Ain’t The Summer of Love’ which, much like the performance on ‘Agents… – Live 2016,’ is a mess of bad yelping vocals and almost sounds like a band desperately trying to get through the performance unscathed. Given that it’s clearly a difficult tune for them to get right by this time, you might wonder why it’s still making regular appearances in the set… Much better, ‘Vigil’ (originally from the underrated ‘Mirrors’ album) is almost perfect: the main riff is played back with an ominous mood and can be heard almost perfectly on the verse, while the pop middle section shows a band who capable of bringing the sheen of the studio into the real world with fine results. With a few AOR tinged lead guitars topping everything with ease, it’s most certainly one of this gig’s greatest achievements.

A much deeper cut, ‘Black Blade’ sounds a little odd with a Dylan-ish vocal subjected to several phased effects. 1980’s ‘Cultosaurus Erectus’ was never the best BÖC album to begin with and this, in turn, was far from being it’s best track. With that in mind, it’s odd they would pick this over the absent ‘Dominance & Submission’ or ‘Harvester of Eyes’, but soon enough it all starts to make sense. From uneven beginnings, fans finally get to experience something close to a musical tour-de-force with busy twin guitar solos and an aggressive lead bass. This demonstrates how BÖC are a great live act…even on those nights when they aren’t quite on top form. Adding to the essential performances, the lesser spotted ‘Shooting Shark’ gets a live outing in classic style. While the shiny 80s production of the original track could suggest that it mightn’t work so well live, this gig more than proves otherwise. Bloom and Buck take the sparse-ish riff and really make it ring, while Kasim busies with a mean slap bass, really nailing the sound of the original recording. A few of the lead vocals are a touch flat, but any imperfections are balanced out by some brilliantly sharp lead guitar breaks throughout and an extended coda where the listener gets to wallow in some classic vibrato. For lovers of BÖC’s brief stint as an AOR band between 1981-86, this will not disappoint.

The third BÖC concert release inside of a year, ‘iHeart Radio’ manages to be just different enough from its two live predecessors to make it worthwhile, but the intimate nature of the recording once again makes it a set that’s geared more towards the big fans and completists. This is a good set, but for the more casual listener looking for a BÖC live fix featuring this line-up, picking up the 2CD/DVD release ‘Hard Rock Cleveland 2014’ would be far more beneficial.

June 2020