At The Carling Academy, Newcastle, U.K., July 21, 2006

BLUE ÖYSTER CULT (Live at The Carling Academy, Newcastle, U.K., July 21, 2006)
Photo: Mick Burgess

On a week that saw fanfared appearances by Funkadelic and Guns N’ Roses gracing the venues of Newcastle, Blue Öyster Cult (BOC) rolled into town to a more low-key reception, yet having recorded part of the classic Some Enchanted Evening in Newcastle, the City has always maintained a special place in BOC folklore and their appearance was eagerly anticipated by the faithful Cultoholics.

Having spent the best part of the week crisscrossing the UK during a record-breaking heatwave, the band arrived to play in the recently opened Academy, a much needed new gig venue following the demise of the legendary Mayfair and The Riverside, created from an old run down Bingo Hall. Tonight, however, there would be no numbers called, but an invigorating evening of classic Rock ‘n’ Roll.

On hitting the stage at 8:15 prompt (take note Mr. Rose) it was immediately clear that there was something a little different about the forthcoming proceedings. Keyboardist/guitarist Allen Lanier was absent, having been admitted to hospital earlier in the day, however being the hardened professionals that they are, and in the words of Freddie Mercury, “the show must go on.”

Kicking off with a rampant, hard-hitting “The Red and the Black,” BOC were in no mood to compromise. Lead singer/keyboardist and stun-guitarist Eric Bloom, resplendent in a black top with trademark shades and a slick-looking Buck Dharma (lead guitar/vocals) took to the task of creating the BOC sound without their absent band mate. Following hard on the heels of the opener with “OD’d On Life Itself,” it was apparent the band was adapting well to Lanier’s absence, producing a sound with a harder, more aggressive edge when shorn of the keyboard embellishments, and both Bloom and Dharma were tight and responding well to the challenge.

Since their last appearance in the UK two years ago, there have been changes afoot in the BOC camp with Bobby Rondinelli moving onto The Lizards and Danny Miranda departing to Queen + Paul Rodgers. BOC were quick to recruit replacements by way of Richie Castellano on bass and Jules Radino on drums. Both fit in seamlessly, giving a renewed youthful vigor to the band. As Bloom quipped, their combined ages still don’t amount to his age!! Castellano provides a more energetic contribution to the BOC engine room, giving a more intricate and, at times, funky element to the band. Radino, who’s style, at times, resembles the excellent Zak Starkey, and whose image wouldn’t look out of place occupying Blink 182’s drum stool, grimaced throughout whilst providing the fluid backbeat so reminiscent of the early Bouchard days.

The great thing about BOC is the variety in their shows, the setlist changes not just from tour to tour, but from night to night. On this tour, a total of 40 songs have been rehearsed and are interchanged each night around the axis of the established crowd favorites and hits. Tonight, the band pulled out an enthralling “Shooting Shark,” and for the first time on this tour, “The Vigil,” from the archives. “Shooting Shark” in particular was an absolute revelation. From the scintillating, hypnotic, Funk-driven bassline, to the lush layers of silky keyboards from Bloom, which enveloped Dharmas’ haunting vocals and rapier like guitar, the crowd was left aghast at the truly wonderful soundscape, which unfolded before them. The aforementioned “The Vigil” stepped the drama up a gear, with Dharmas’ guitar again to the fore with a simply delicious opening refrain that was developed still further during the soaring solo in the mid section.

One of BOC’s strengths is their versatility. Whether it is their keen ear for a great Pop hook by way of “Burnin’ for You,” or the rifferama of the thumping “Cities on Flame,” there is something for everyone in their repertoire. Bloom and Dharma are so different vocally, yet so complimentary. Bloom’s unique approach gives the band the kick, the hard aggressive edge that cements their reputation as a bona fide Hard Rock institution with “E.T.I.” and “Harvester of Eyes” proving the point. While Dharma, on the other hand, has an understated, smooth melodic tone, which is such an essential ingredient to some of their greatest moments. Yet when they intertwine, they give that trademark BOC harmony that is prevalent throughout their back catalog.

Perhaps their greatest asset, however, is the guitar work of Buck Dharma. When critics talk of guitar greats, they often mention Blackmore, Page, etc., yet Dharma is often overlooked. Why this is so is a great mystery. Dharma’s sense of melody is second to none, some of the finest moments in Rock have been hewn from the strings of his guitar. At times his work is breathtaking. “Then Came The Last Days of May” is a case in point and shows Dharma at his devastating best. Opening with a tearful melody soaring over an equally wistful vocal, the song builds up to a searing climax where Dharma shows his technical dexterity to maximum effect, and it’s an absolute show-stopping moment.

BOC’s sound throughout the show was superb, giving a perfect balance between Bloom and Dharmas’ guitar and vocal interplay, with the harmony vocals and keyboards crystal clear, whilst the bass and drums were powerful, but not overbearing in the mix. Soundman Woody deserves high praise for a job well done.

The sign of a great gig is when the time flies by effortlessly. On hearing the monstrous (literally) riff that welcomes “Godzilla,” it’s amazing that well over an hour had passed by without one glance at the watch. “Don’t Fear The Reaper” closed the set properly, and Dharmas’ explosive solo perfectly encapsulates his talents with a potent mix of drama, melody and technical wizardry that few can match.

On a scorching night in Newcastle, a rather apt “Hot Rails To Hell,” with a much-welcomed appearance in the set, complete with lead vocals by new boy Castellano brought matters to a close to rapturous applause from an appreciative and enthusiastic audience.

BOC may have entered Newcastle quietly and unheralded through the back door, but they certainly left kicking and screaming through the front, leaving their more high profile media counterparts from earlier in the week, trailing in their wake. They may have been around for more years than they dare remember, but a BOC show still thrills and entertains like no other. There’s no need for pyrotechnics or a fancy light show here, as all the spectacle you need comes from the band and their music, and tonight, in the absence of Allen Lanier, they pulled together and played a blinder, and confirmed their position as simply one of the best live bands around.

Watch out for an exclusive Metal Express Radio interview with Buck Dharma and Eric Bloom coming soon.


  • Mick Burgess

    Mick is a reviewer and photographer here at Metal Express Radio, based in the North-East of England. He first fell in love with music after hearing Jeff Wayne's spectacular The War of the Worlds in the cold winter of 1978. Then in the summer of '79 he discovered a copy of Kiss Alive II amongst his sister’s record collection, which literally blew him away! He then quickly found Van Halen I and Rainbow's Down To Earth, and he was well on the way to being rescued from Top 40 radio hell!   Over the ensuing years, he's enjoyed the Classic Rock music of Rush, Blue Oyster Cult, and Deep Purple; the AOR of Journey and Foreigner; the Pomp of Styx and Kansas; the Progressive Metal of Dream Theater, Queensrÿche, and Symphony X; the Goth Metal of Nightwish, Within Temptation, and Epica, and a whole host of other great bands that are too numerous to mention. When he's not listening to music, he watches Sunderland lose more football (soccer) matches than they win, and occasionally, if he has to, he goes to work as a property lawyer.

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