How can you talk about Blue Öyster Cult without mentioning the C-word? With great difficulty. No matter how many times you see it, the Saturday Night Live skit with Will Ferrell and Christopher Walken still hits the spot. Someone posts on social media that they are under the weather or have a fever? Blam, they get the clip sent to them, or one of many numerous Walken memes about cowbell, being the only prescription. So, leading up to these brace of live dates, memes about “more cowbell” were on constant rotation as Blue Öyster Cult made a flying visit to these shores. Before the rock legends took to the stage, Jared James Nichols was tasked with warming up the crowd, and you guessed it, he also brought his cowbell..
Wisconsin born guitar slinger, Nichols is one of the new breed of blues rock players coming through the ranks, bringing with him a certain degree of piss and vinegar. A genre that can sometimes be quite stale, blues rock needs new blood to keep it relevant, and Nichols is dragging it kicking and screaming into modern times. To use a sporting cliché, it’s what Nichols does when he doesn’t have the ball that makes him stand out. When he isn’t strangling his Gibson to within an inch of its life on numerous solos, he’s keeping it simple and allowing the song to breath, new song ‘Don’t Be Scared’ being a great example. A slow burning, smouldering, bone cruncher of a tune, it begins with some simple, beefy chords that demand your attention before the song settles into its head bobbing groove. After a few moments of restraint, Nichols lets rip with one of many incredible solos. Never flash or overplayed, it’s an admirable trait that is in short supply these days. Another newer track, ‘Don’t You Try’, is a great example of how much this power trio is a band. Bassist Erik Sandin provides some cool harmonies as well as helping Nichols out with call and response vocals, all the while playing the living hell out of his bass. At the back sits drummer Dennis Holm, the machine. A mass of hair and flailing arms, he hits with force and is a joy to watch. Nichols is no slouch either, his vocals have come on leaps and bounds since 2015’s debut album, ‘Old Glory and The Wild Revival’, while his playing gets better with each outing. Authentic playing that has seen his stock rise and become the “goto” guy when bands are looking for an opener to give them a run for their money. With his time drawing to a close, Nichols leads the band into a storming cover of ‘Mississippi Queen’, and Holm unlocks the cowbell. Cue mass cries of “more cowbell!”… New album, ‘Black Magic’, is due in September, and on tonight’s evidence, looks like being a belter. Catch Nichols this July with UFO, as well as slots at Ramblin’ Man Fair and Steelhouse Festival.
Celebrating 45 years since the release of their self titled debut album, it’s only fitting that Blue Öyster Cult begin with the opening track from the 1972 debut, and so ‘Transmaniacon MC’ kicks off a trip down memory lane that had the audience in raptures from the word go. From the debut the band fast forward five years to the metal-tastic titled ‘Golden Age Of Leather’, complete with the acapella intro and the opening lyrics that most of the crowd can identify with.. “Raise your can of beer on high and seal your fate forever, our best years have passed us by… the golden age of leather”. Guitarist Buck Dharma still sounds amazing after all these years and makes this guitar playing lark look effortless when the song speeds up midway through. The instantly recognisable intro of ‘Burning For You’ features more vintage Dharma as the band breaks into one of their biggest hits. There are killer harmonies throughout, and Dharma handles the lead vocals with aplomb. The guitarist also handles lead vocals on ‘Then Came The Last Days Of May’, which sees Richie Castellano step up to the plate and deliver a jaw-dropping guitar solo. It’s amazing to watch Dharma taking a step backwards to allow Castellano his moment in the spotlight. After a glorious few minutes the guitarists swap places and Dharma comes front and centre and lets fly. Serious guitar fireworks from two talented musicians that people were still talking about on the way out.
Vocalist Eric Bloom is in fine voice throughout the evening, although he is taking his life in his hands wearing shades in one of the darkest venues in the country. Despite the ABC having the largest mirror ball in Europe, it has a fear of turning on anything resembling a bright light. Watching the lead vocalist of the headlining act wander about on stage wearing shades leads to a few winces as he walks forward to the edge of the stage. Guys, turn on some lights, eh? We aren’t Gremlins y’know. Bloom is also in fine fettle throughout the evening, telling the audience “Let’s play some rock n’ roll as there is a disco in here after… so rev up your motorcycle, grab your woman, and grab a beer!” Or when introducing ‘Harvest Moon’… ”We like a bit of audience participation, so what would you like to hear? ‘Shark’ or ‘Harvest Moon’?…’Harvest Moon’ it is then..”. The climax of the set really is a testament to the amazing back catalogue of Blue Öyster Cult. ‘Tattoo Vampire’, ‘Godzilla’, ‘Astronomy’ and ‘Cities On Flame With Rock And Roll’ all have the crowd beaming ear to ear, but of course the loudest cheers are for, what else but, ‘(Don’t Fear) The Reaper’, which sadly is a cowbell free zone! No cowbell? Denied, man! Even without the C-word, it’s still a fantastic romp that sets off mass singalongs and bro-hugs that can only be seen at classic rock gigs. Strangers are high fiving each other, slapping backs, and showing genuine emotion at the airing of a bonafide rock classic. Let’s face it, that’s what life is all about isn’t it?
Review – Dave Stott
Images – Dave Jamieson