A hit and miss affair

Blue Öyster Cult are very much a hard rock tradition, having existed now continuously since 1971 and under a couple of previous names before that.

Their first five albums are revered as some of the best American rock records of the 70s, filled with cryptic song-cycles, lyrics written by literary figures and Buck Dharma’s breathtaking guitar histrionics. Their live shows were legendary over-the-top spectacles that often featured all five members of the band slinging guitars across the front of the stage for some reason.

Those days were very long ago, and as the band creaks towards its 50th anniversary, this set recorded almost six years ago is apparently the first of a series of live release set for 2020. At over two hours long and spread across your choice of two CDs or three vinyls, Hard Rock Live Cleveland 2014 is a hit and miss affair, with some truly glowing moments and several cringe-inducing ones. BÖC’s main protagonists are both in their 70s now, and Eric Bloom shows his age more than once across this near-catalogue defining setlist, struggling to pull off vocals he delivered so commandingly long ago. Originally built on a hook featuring four-part vocal harmonies, Golden Age of Leather falls flat; later on, the epic Black Blade lacks some gravitas in the vocal department. Shooting Shark seems to go on for an unnecessarily long time and The Vigil really adds nothing to the set.

But there are clear highlights too. The mournful murder ballad Then Came the Last Days of May is excellent, Reaper is peerless, as always, and surprise late-in-the-set classics Hot Rails to Hell and Harvester of Eyes are solid. Yet it still feels interminable. BÖC aren’t the band they used to be, by a long shot, and enormous guitar solo and drum work-outs don’t add any level of excitement to a show that already seems way too long.

There are some who will feel the need to own this simply because it is Blue Öyster Cult, but that’s really not a very good reason. Recorded six years ago, this band was already sounding tired. It might be difficult for a band that’s been around for longer than just about anyone else, but 2020 maybe the year Bloom and Buck should think about hanging up the guitars.

  1. OD’d on Life Itself
  2. The Red and the Black
  3. Golden Age of Leather
  4. Burnin’ For You
  5. Career of Evil
  6. Shooting Shark
  7. The Vigil
  8. ME 262
  9. Buck’s Boogie
  10. Black Blade
  11. Then Came the Last Days of May
  12. Godzilla
  13. (Don’t Fear) The Reaper
  14. Harvester of Eyes
  15. I Love the Night
  16. Hot Rails to Hell
  17. Cities on Flame (With Rock and Roll)