As one of the major successes at last summer’s inaugural Ramblin’ Man Fair in Maidstone, Blue Öyster Cult are back in the UK with what, by their standards at least, is unreasonable haste. Preceded by the New Yorkers’ first ever show in Ireland, this one-off UK performance offers a 40th-anniversary reprise of the group’s fourth album, Agents Of Fortune. A cameo from Albert Bouchard, drummer during the era concerned, serves to spice things up even more.
It’s of little surprise that all of the tickets for their London appearance have been scooped up weeks before the show takes place, though the death of Sandy Pearlman – Blue Öyster Cult’s early manager, producer, co-writer and all-round muse – a few days before the gig casts a significant shadow.
The decision to perform Agents Of Fortune as an appetiser for a ‘greatest hits’-type set is perhaps ill-founded. The album may be by far their biggest-selling full-length collection, but it’s some way off being their best. Sticking to its original running order means the band’s signature hit (Don’t Fear) The Reaper raises its head just three songs into proceedings – a mere seven minutes after they’ve taken the stage!
The band don’t exactly blow their wad too soon, though, especially as ETI (Extra Terrestrial Intelligence) follows quickly in its wake. However, despite the appearance of Bouchard on guitar and lead vocals on three tracks, the audience’s excitement levels dip noticeably during the featured record’s latter stages.
Some 24 hours earlier in Dublin, the band had performed a mammoth 24 songs. Tonight they’re determined to outdo themselves, with an extra tune setting the seal on what a backstage source proudly informs Prog is their longest ever performance.
Thanks largely to Pearlman, who from the beginning encouraged and nurtured their sci-fi ambitions, Blue Öyster Cult are recognised as one of rock music’s most cerebral acts. Tonight, the band stretch out on The Vigil, from the Mirrors album, and the lesser known Harvest Moon from the late 1990s. They encore with a quite brilliant In Thee, another selection from the criminally underrated Mirrors, which is dedicated this evening to its late composer, bassist Allen Lanier, and also to Pearlman.
The band are quite rightly acknowledged as being important figures in the development of hard rock and heavy metal, but on these songs, we’re reminded why they’re so admired by all fans of adventurous music, whatever the terminology or genre.
With the group’s recording ambitions now seemingly confined to the past, live concerts alone will stand as their legacy. Yet with the band on such stellar form, it’s clear that the Blue Öyster Cult story is far from being over.