BLUE ÖYSTER CULT – 45th Anniversary – Live In London

The fashion for bands playing “complete album” live shows presents a double edged sword. On the negative side, this robs fans of the excitement and mystery of what the night’s setlist might bring. On the plus side, such a practice means that long neglected gems are given a live airing. In the case of Blue Öyster Cult’s ‘45th Anniversary: Live In London’ the latter definitely applies. Not only is their debut record is a stone cold classic, but it features several tunes that aren’t necessarily regular fixtures in their live sets, which lends this recording an instant vitality.

Recorded at the Stone Free Festival at London’s O2 in 2017, the pre-event hype and posters would have most believe that the return of Ritchie Blackmore was the day’s big draw. However, it could be argued that Rainbow were no more than a glorified tribute act, since the band in question featured Blackmore plus a bunch of men with no connection to his band’s family tree [Alexa: define “ego”]. The subsequently issued live recordings  show off a distinctly average hard rock band. Reports suggest that BÖC’s appearance that night was so eagerly awaited, their part of the venue was so packed out that there were many people unable to gain access to the Indigo Room just before they took to the stage. Based on those stories and the recording captured for posterity here, it might be fair to call Blue Öyster Cult the true heroes of the day.

The opportunity to hear any line up of BÖC exploring early deep cuts instead of the usual hits would surely be welcomed by anyone whom couldn’t make the gig, but hearing Bloom and Roeser ploughing their way through ‘I’m On The Lamb But I Ain’t No Sheep’ straight after a blistering ‘Transmaniacon MC’ quickly sets this up as a release not to be missed. ‘Lamb’ in particular comes across with such natural flair on this night, you’d believe it was as much a part of the regular BÖC concert experience as ‘…Reaper’ or ‘Godzilla’, rather than something that almost never gets played; the lead vocals are spot on – more melodic than on some of the other BÖC archive live sets – and there’s a genuine spirit to the guitar work that suggests Bloom, Roeser and Richie Castallano are relishing this dip into the distant past as much as their audience. Likewise, ‘Screams’ sounds great with a full compliment of harmony vocals and a prominent drum sound. The way drummer Jules Radino dominates the track really adds to the live sound, while a few echoing lead guitars battle against a heavy organ, constantly reminding the listener of the track’s early 70s origins. Straddling toughness and melody at all times, this deserves to be heard more often. During this set, it displays every bit as much power as the more familiar ‘Before The Kiss, A Redcap’, which ranks among the best performances – showing how the 2017 line-up has as much musical gravitas as any era of the band’s long history. Even ‘Redeemed’ – a tune not played before this tour – offers some slick pop-rock, where Southern rock-ish guitar lines weave in and out of a strident rhythm. It’s hard to imagine it being anyone’s favourite BÖC tune, but even after years of neglect, it more than holds its own here.  If you happen to be reading this review anywhere other than Real Gone or perhaps at the official BÖC website any time before release day, please get in touch via our contact box.  Having a certain website steal our words to make themselves look like a genuine reviews site to cover up for the fact that they’re dealing in illegal downloads is annoying.  It also makes us look bad.

The double whammy of ‘Cities On Flame With Rock and Roll’ and ‘Workshop of The Telescopes’ gives the band’s heavier side a really good workout and although the quality of the recording is perhaps a little slick compared to ‘On Your Feet Or On Your Knees’ (and with the audience presence seemingly a secondary concern) there’s still enough atmosphere to make it a valuable document of a great night. Best of all is ‘Then Came The Last Days of May’, which vastly expanded from its original three minutes, becomes eleven minute tour de force. A fantastic showcase for all concerned, the melodic part of the song continues reflects a lot of the evening’s other performances where the smoothness of the lead vocal and precision of the band is at the forefront, but it’s during the instrumental break where the true magic happens. Across seven minutes, BÖC flaunt a broad spectrum of their instrumental prowess, moving from melodic guitar harmonics, into prog-ish flair and subsequently into the kind of rock jam that dominated their 1970s live shows. There are even a couple of moments where the rhythm threatens to explore light reggae, only to be pulled back by some fiery guitar. After a couple of rounds of energetic soloing, there’s still more…and hearing Eric, Buck and Richie battle it out results in some flawless lead work and the kind of fretboard burning that’s an easy match for the band’s peak years. This is an easy contender for one of BÖC’s best ever live performances. It’s seriously good.

A few of the lead vocals during ‘Stairway To The Stars’ are a touch more ragged – coming closer to the sounds of BÖC captured on the 40th Anniversary ‘Agents of Fortune’ set – but otherwise, each of the ten performances from the main set comes close to resembling a perfect show. That will be enough for most to be interested, but a set of further performances including a storming ‘Buck’s Boogie’, the omnipresent ‘Godzilla’ and ‘Don’t Fear The Reaper’, as well as ‘Tattoo Vampire’ add extra value to a great set. Closing with ‘Tyranny & Mutation’s ‘Hot Rails To Hell’, the exciting set draws everything back to the band’s earliest years. Even if ‘Dominance & Submission’ or ‘The Red & The Black’ might have been better choices in terms of being crowd pleasers, this slightly left field pick seems to fit an evening of exploration and nostalgia perfectly. With amps cranked and a gruff vocal leading the charge, it provides excellent closure. These veteran rockers are not about to go quietly.

With ‘45th Anniversary’ being the fourth Blue Öyster Cult live release inside of a year, you might think there’s a danger that any archive raiding has reached saturation point. That might’ve been the case had this not been quite so good but, the fact is, with its heavy weighting towards early material, this set is rarely anything shy of fucking phenomenal. It’s easily the most essential BÖC live set since the 70s and shows every reason why they continue to pull a live crowd long after their studio output veered rather more towards the pedestrian. If you have even the vaguest interest in the early BÖC stuff, you need this.

July 2020