Sound — 7
Veteran hard rock-heavy metal pioneers mark their 30th anniversary with a career-spanning live concert DVD. Today's music observers familiar with genres such as black metal, death metal, etc., probably wonder what it is about BOC that parents did not approve of back in the day as it pales in comparison to what's available today. But back in those pre-internet, pre-'everything goes' days, they were considered a sinister force indeed. Cautious mystery and investigation beckoned what was behind those black and white album covers and chilling song titles. Like many of their 1970's arena-rock brethren, Blue Oyster Cult (or at least their management) smartly realized somewhat recently that while the band's glory days are long since gone, there is a vein of nostalgia to be mined courtesy of middle-aged former devotees with discretionary income who enjoy attending State/County Fairs, Rib Fests, and Car Shows, all while listening to the 8-track sounds that used to blare from their Trans Am's and Mustangs. Sure, Blue Oyster Cult (BOC) had actually put out 2 recent studio albums prior to this DVD (Heaven Forbid, 1998; Curse of the Hidden Mirror, 2001), but is that why they're still around and the reason for this release? No, their attraction is one that is purely based on live performances of their classic era material (1972-1988; I include 1988 as the classic era as that includes the indecipherable Imaginos album, even though it was essentially an Albert Bouchard solo album with guest appearances by the other original members, but by no means was it a true band performance... believe me, it's a whole other discussion). You've got the hard-core fans that want to hear the obscure material (Quicklime Girl, Lips in the Hills) as well as the general classic rock fans who are there for the radio hits (Don't Fear the Reaper, Godzilla, Burnin' For You), and in that regard BOC has put together a well-rounded package as all of these mentioned numbers are on the DVD. But what of the current band, the recording, and the actual performance? For this performance, BOC is down to three original members (amusingly called 3OC by the faithful): Eric Bloom on lead vocals, guitar (no stun guitar this time), and keyboards; Allen Lanier on guitar and keyboards; Donald 'Buck Dharma' Roeser on guitar and vocals. Taking the place of original band members Albert and Joe Bouchard (drums and bass respectively) are Bobby Rondinelli on drums and Danny Miranda on bass. Bobby is a veteran drummer with stints in Rainbow and Black Sabbath, Danny was a veteran of the New York music scene and has since scored an incredible gig by playing bass for the revamped Queen fronted by Paul Rogers. It should be noted that prior to Rondinelli and Miranda settling, BOC had a revolving door of drummers and bassists including - at one point when Albert was fired in 1981 - the tour manager (not sure what that did for their credibility amongst their musician fans). True to form, neither Rondinelli or Miranda are still with the band, although they have stepped up to fill in on occasion.
Content — 4
Track List/Album/Year/Lead Vocal: Stairway to the Stars - Blue Oyster Cult - 1972 - Bloom Burnin' For You - Fire of Unknown Origin - 1981 - Roeser OD'd on Life Itself - Tyranny and Mutation - 1973 - Bloom E.T.I. (Extra-Terrestrial Intelligence) - Agents of Fortune - 1976 - Bloom Dance on Stilts - Curse of the Hidden Mirror - 2001 - Roeser Harvester of Eyes - Secret Treaties - 1974 - Bloom Buck's Boogie - Guitars the Destroyed the World (multi- band compilation) - 1973 On Your Feet or On Your Knees - 1975 - Instrumental Quicklime Girl - Tyranny and Mutation - 1973 - Bloom Flaming Telepaths - Secret Treaties - 1974 - Bloom Harvest Moon - Heaven Forbid - 1998 - Roeser Then Came the Last Days of May - Blue Oyster Cult - 1972 - Roeser Cities on Flame with Rock and Roll - Blue Oyster Cult - 1972 - Bloom ME262 - Secret Treaties - 1974 - Bloom Perfect Water - Club Ninja - 1986 - Roeser Lips in the Hills - Cultosaurus Erectus - 1980 - Roeser Godzilla - Spectres - 1977 - Combined lead vocal Bloom/Roeser Don't Fear the Reaper - Agents of Fortune - 1976 - Roeser Dominance and Submission - Secret Treaties - 1974 - Bloom The Red and The Black - Tyranny and Mutation - 1973 - Bloom Extras - band interviews, fan interviews, behind the scenes footage including a sound check featuring snippets of long-time BOC fan favorite The Vigil (Mirrors, 1979). Band performance. When you're dealing with professionals that have been in the business for 30+ years, you're not going to see any obvious fumbling from the 3 mainstays, Bloom, Lanier, and Roeser; Rondinelli and Miranda are pro's as well, so as far as the fluidity of the performance, the casual listener won't notice any obvious bumps. But with a band like BOC whose history - both in the studio and in concert - is well-documented, how does it stack up with their past? First off, the good. Roeser's guitar playing is, quite simply, exceptional. During the classic era he was known for roaring through a stack of Marshalls, with few effects or nuances, power chording and lightning riffing with the greatest of ease. A Long Day's Night now shows a veteran performer who can still shred with ease, but has much more of an emphasis on tone, note selection, dynamics, while showcasing an easy familiarity of other styles (pop, fusion). Not only that, his radio-friendly voice (he sang all the hits, even through Bloom was the acknowledged lead singer-front man) has remained remarkably intact, something he himself has attributed to recent vocal training. Bloom's voice, unfortunately, is shot, gone, kaput; absolutely shredded. While never known as a powerhouse singer in the vein of a Ronnie James Dio, Bloom always managed to acquit himself well with a throaty growl when necessary, or a smooth delivery displaying some range (check out Veteran of the Psychic Wars from 1981's Fire of Unknown Origin, The Great Sun Jester from 1979's Mirrors, or Goin' Thru the Motions from 1977's Spectres). Bloom's voice has become somewhat of a reedy wheeze, and when he wants to project some power you'd swear the strain is forcing his eyebrows to roll over the top of his head and the tendons in his neck are going to pop out. On Flaming Telepaths and Harvester of Eyes in particular he's reduced to a Burl Ives-type narration. While never known as a guitar player, at one time Bloom would play along on the intricate riffs of Cities on Flame and Dr. Music (check out the Black Sabbath-Blue Oyster Cult DVD Black and Blue) but now he just seems to have one strapped on for effect. He does not play any of the unison guitar parts and is seemingly content to chop away on the top 3 strings, letting Roeser and Lanier do the driving. Bloom's keyboard playing is merely one of minimal layering and support, and - again unlike his past, check out the Subhuman from 1975's On Your Feet or On Your Knees with it's (too long, but amusing) reptilian snythesizer solo - he does not branch out. Despite the musical shortcomings noted, Bloom IS an effective frontman. He is comfortable and confident in front of the crowd, and displays just enough swagger and strange bantering ('A little Harvester of Eyes never hurt anybody! ') to keep the show from getting stale. Throughout BOC's history, Allen Lanier has always been a strange combination of the important-busy-but-anonymous man that has been key to BOC's live performances. Sort of like the anonymous soldier who directs the artillery to allow an entire division to move through enemy lines, Lanier does a bunch work without stepping to the forefront like Bloom and Roeser. Never a major contributor with his compositions (although he did pen the fine ballad In Thee from 1979's Mirrors, scoring a top 100 in the singles charts) his value was his multi-instrumental capabilities allowing him to effortlessly move from piano to guitar to synthesizer (check out R you Ready 2 Rock from 1978's live Some Enchanted Evening), always providing that solid backing allowing Roeser to solo freely and Bloom to concentrate on singing while ensuring that the live cuts had the same girth as the studio ones. On a Long Day's Night, Lanier continues that tradition with some fine guitar playing (nothing like Roeser, but competent and professional), but his keyboard playing is light years removed from what it was. His Buck's Boogie Hammond solo, which on 1975's On Your Feet or On Your Knees was absolutely blistering with a great, spitting tone (while not Emersonian, it qualified as Lordesque) is reduced to a something you'd hear from your grandmother's Lowrey or Wurlitzer. The classic piano and synthesizer parts on Flaming Telepaths are also greatly reduced in presence, Lanier's playing just doesn't have that up-front confidence it used to have. I did notice that his keyboards stands were wobbling up and down something fierce, perhaps that was causing some of the actual playing problems as well as some timing issues. Rondinelli is a competent enough rock drummer, but that is exactly the problem here. BOC's songs are not just typical rock songs, they require a deft touch with a bit of swing (Buck's Boogie, Harvester of Eyes, The Red and The Black, ME262), and to hear him just bash through the classics makes you realize how untypical Albert Bouchard was as a rock drummer. All the subtle nuances that were on the studio cuts are lost in Rondinelli's rigid 4-to-the-floor performance that, while adequate, does not satisfy (for the die-hard fan, youtube BOC and find a live version of I Love the Night; Rondinelli absolutely slaughters Roeser's gorgeous vampire ballad with some grotesque, ham-fisted drumming). On the more straight-forward songs that require less intricacy (Lips in the Hills, Godzilla), Rondinelli's style is a much better fit, yet still falls short of the edge of the originals and what is required in live performance. Miranda is a very technically talented bassist, and because he plays with his fingers as opposed to a pick, he lends a very solid bottom end to the band. Unlike most rock bassists, he is adept at walking bass lines and throws in tasty fills on a regular basis. It is a mystery why such a talented bassist, when given a chance to solo (in Godzilla, the traditional drum and bass solo vehicle for many years), simply walks back and forth across the stage, holding up his arm a la 'a shark in the water', while just hitting the low 'E'. Puzzling, and not very good. The bass playing highlights are Stairway to the Stars and The Red and The Black where his syncopated lines are equal to Joe Bouchard's original lines, muscular yet fluid. The bonuses are somewhat of a mixed bag. The band interviews and behind the scene snapshots are well-done (the exception being the well-worn phrase from these guys, 'This is the best the band has ever been! ', no matter who is playing bass or drums), but the fan interviews are embarrassing. That a band who proudly wore the banner of 'the thinking man's hard rock/heavy metal band' would showcase fans who are obviously knee-walking and snot-slinging drunk, is beyond me. Obviously the band is not catering to the Morton's crowd, but this is painful to watch. The general performance highlights are anything sung by Roeser, with the newer songs (Harvest Moon and Dance on Stilts) unfortunately not having the same magic as the classics. The absolute highlight of the DVD is Then Came the Last Days of May. Stunningly epic in nature, both lyrically and instrumentally, it showcases an uptempo guitar break and a lyrical ending that is typical BOC creepy. Buck's Boogie gets a nod and is an absolute monster of a showcase for Roeser's guitar pyrotechnics. Unfortunately the Bloom-sung tracks are weak vocally, the first-rate gothic-trip lyrics sounding about as menacing as a Paddington Bear recitation and ruining the overall presentation.
Production Quality — 5
The show production is visually appealing, not too dark, no seizure inducing sequences. Sure, the lasers, the smoke-belching Godzilla, and monster light shows are part of a by-gone era of bigger sales and bigger budgets, but are not sorely missed. The sound is kind of mixed bag, the 5.1 sounds crisp, but for some reason regular stereo has more of a punch. Bloom's vocals are uncomfortably high in the mix. From the opening salvo of Stairway to the Stars when you first notice it (painfully), it becomes annoying as the show goes on. The low end comes through very nice without annoying rumbling, the highs - especially on Roeser's guitar - shimmer.
Overall Impression — 7
If BOC could deliver a package like this but from the pre-Reaper era, you would have an epic and historical hard rock-heavy metal document for the ages. Unfortunately, like so many bands from the '70's that toured relentlessly, not much thought was given to posterity at the time and hundreds of golden opportunities to preserve legendary performances for the ages are forever gone. Thus, after the fact releases like this are born. BOC certainly deserves more recognition and respect for their contributions to popular music beyond a mocking skit that ignores their talent and originality. This release, sadly, does nothing to correct that. Roeser's performance does much to lift A Long Day's Night above the rest of the classic rock fodder, but Bloom's weak performance and the lack of that feeling that when you saw these guys in concert in the '70's, that was it going to be dangerous, is completely gone.