This year, Blue Oyster Cult is celebrating their 40th anniversary, which is pretty impressive. I’ve liked them for nearly all of that time, although sometimes years went by without me listening to their music, and I confess that I haven’t bought any of their newer albums. In fact, I don’t own anything newer than their 1980 release, “Cultosaurus Erectus”, so I guess I’m a bad fan.
That’s okay though, because their recent set lists seem to cater to the bad fan, with the band shying away from anything written in the last 35 years. Perhaps it’s because their aging fan base, like me, are stuck on those early years. There was that study that came out awhile ago that suggested the average person stops listening to new music at the age of 33. I definitely buck (pun intended) that trend, but find that with a lot of the bands I listened to in my youth, I prefer their early output to their more recent releases. It could be that the bands have run out of fresh ideas or energy, or it could be that my reason for listening to them at all is purely nostalgic at this point. It could be that I’m distracted by newer bands and haven’t actually heard newer works by the bands of my youth. It’s probably a combination of things. However I choose to look at it, the fact remains that the music of my youth is firmly embedded in my mind and heart, but the continuing careers of the bands of my youth don’t hold the same importance for me.
The Santa Cruz Boardwalk summer concert series features a lot of the same acts every year, so this isn’t the first time I’ve seen Blue Oyster Cult on the beach (this is). I don’t have much (or any, truthfully) interest in the rest of the summer line-up, but I’m always willing to travel the short distance over the hill to see Blue Oyster Cult.
Traveling over the hill with Jeanine and Eva, I had Coil’s “Live Four” in the CD player. At one point, Jeanine recognized at remarked on their version of Sonny Bono’s Bang Bang, saying that it was an odd choice for a cover. We found our usual parking place full, so we drove down toward the end of the boardwalk, paid the exorbitant parking fee, and wandered into the madness of a Santa Cruz Friday. I bought a somewhat bland vegetarian burrito on the way toward the stage where the first of two Blue Oyster Cult sets was already underway. As we approached, the distant sounds coalesced into Burnin’ For You, from 1981’s “Fire of Unknown Origin”. Jeanine and Eva wanted clam chowder though, so we passed the stage and kept going until the clam chowder place hove into view. As they waited for their chowder, I could hear the beginning of Godzilla, which ended as we walked back. By the time we were situated at the back of the crowd, they were playing their signature tune, (Don’t Fear) the Reaper.
Thus ended the first set.
After I got a chocolate-dipped, soft serve ice cream cone, we got ourselves situated on one of the elevated walkways that commanded a good view of the stage and surrounding beach, and waited. There was a merch line so people could buy $30.00 anniversary T-shirts, an elderly woman dispensing bubbles and merriment, a large police presence, sailboats in the distance, a guy with a metal detector, and the usual assortment of Santa Cruz crazies. Oh, and seagulls. Lots of seagulls.
Eventually, the band returned to the stage, along with the American Sign Language interpreter (there is always such an interpreter at these shows) for the evening. I was presently surprised when the band launched into This Ain’t the Summer of Love, from their 1976 release, “Agents of Fortune”. It made me think of the Sonny Bono cover we’d been listening to in the car because Current 93 (who were long part of the same “scene” as Coil, as well as being friends) covered this song, and even as recently as last year, released a live album that borrows the title. That takes me back to the first time I saw Blue Oyster Cult, back in 1999 in Palo Alto, because right afterward we flew to New York for a trio of Current 93 shows. Neither band played This Ain’t the Summer of Love that time, but I have a clear memory of being in a New York eatery and hearing Godzilla emanating from the speakers. Coincidences aside, it’s a great song too, smooth and poppy, yet subtly apocalyptic.
The evening progressed with a mixture of staples and less obvious choices, including a pair of songs from their 1972 debut release in the form of Then Came the Last Days of May (which they played the last time I saw them) and Cities On Flame With Rock And Roll (which they didn’t). The former sounded as beautiful as always, and the latter, being a more typical rock and roll song, still sounded good after all of these years.
It just occurred to me that, if one measures the age of the band from their first release, they’ve actually been in existence for 44 years, not 40, and that doesn’t even include the time leading up to their first release. Hmmm.
Burnin’ For You made another appearance. At the time of its release, I wasn’t a big fan of the song because it sounded too melodic and poppy for my young ears (at the time, I was just starting to explore the whole NWoBHM scene, which was more raw, energetic, and exciting), but now, I appreciate it more. It’s a memorable song with good melody and a strong chorus. (Don’t Fear) the Reaper (dedicated to Star Trek actor Anton Yelchin, who recently met the reaper) reappeared as the first song of a two song encore, and was slightly marred by a bunch of smartasses who thought it would be funny to clang on cowbells for the entire duration of the song (all thanks to the SNL skit from years ago). It was funny for a couple of seconds, but quickly became annoying, sounding like the tin man falling down the stairs over and over again. Speaking of “marred”, we could have done without the running commentary provided by the people behind us, and the drunk people to our left who kept shouting “Godzillaaaaa!”. They should have been there for the first set. As it was, I was quite happy that instead of Godzilla, the band opted to play a searing version of Hot Rails To Hell as their final song.
The large police presence mentioned earlier meant that the guy who’d set up his video recording device down on the sand didn’t get to record the whole show.
It also meant that at least one falling-down drunk guy was escorted out. Most people behaved themselves though.
After all was said and sung, I realized that I really enjoyed the show. The beach setting is always beautiful, the band effortlessly entertained us, and the set list was full of good songs. The band is aging gracefully. It might be time for me to investigate their newer material. I’m curious.
The entire second set list was as follows:
This Ain’t The Summer of Love
Burnin' For You
Lips In the Hills
Then Came the Last Days of May
Cities On Flame With Rock and Roll
(Don’t Fear) The Reaper
Hot Rails To Hell