Blue Öyster Cult
Desert Dragon

January 24, 2014
Canyon Club
Agoura Hills, CA

Review by Jim Shelley
Live Photos by Deja Cross & Ron Lyon

It was 1980 when first I saw Blue Öyster Cult, as part of the Black and Blue Tour that year. I was sold! Even before anyone coined the term "Thinking Man's Band," I knew this was smart music. Since then I've witnessed the magic about five times... with the most recent visit at the Canyon Club in Agoura Hills.

However, before I get started on BÖC’s performance I must shout from the mountain about the opening band, Desert Dragon. In a word: Dynamite! These guys rocked! They definitely have the old school sound: heavy on guitars, thick bass lines, dynamic percussion, keyboards and great vocals. It was obvious that each band member was in sync with the other. These guys are pros. Knowing glances, discreet nods, shared smiles — it all gelled. The sound was reminiscent of 80s LA — Think GNR meets Motley Crue meets Pink Floyd meets Robin Trower.

The guitarists were deadly. The guitarist on stage left, Greg Patnode, seared. His seemingly delicate approach to blasting out extended riffs was complemented by his counterpart at stage right, Thiago Straioto. These guys are a force that, in this writer's opinion, holds everything else together. Daniele De Cario served double duty, killing it on the bass and keyboards. Aside from the bass, it very much reminded me of Paul Raymond (UFO). Daniele didn't miss a beat transitioning between instruments. I hope they are paying this guy double.

Percussionist Nicholas Mason held everything together. No fancy moves, just solid rock drumming. Singer Ross Petrarca demonstrated a set of pipes that, head to head, would compete with a list of established vocalists, some having been around for greater than 50 years. I heard a few mistakes, but hey... this was a rock and roll show. No lip syncing here. Note for note I would give him a solid 8/10.

While the band, by their own admission, transitioned from "blues to hard rock and psychedelia, you would expect a little more stage presence. Petrarca looked bored throughout the performance. His band mates generated the electricity that captured the audience's attentions, but he seemed to lack the inspiration that could have brought the crowd to their feet. I'm not suggesting the singer go all ICP; just navigate that stage rock star style. The potential is there.

This ain't the Summer of love. That was evident as BÖC took the stage, opening with their 1976 Agents Of Fortune hit, firing from all guns. Electricity took to the air, and the crowd took notice and prepared for an evening of hits. Classic hits from the "Black and White" years all the way to the color generation. That being said, it was going to be interesting to hear which songs they would cull from their illustrious 45+ year career. I mean... how do you select which songs to play when you have released 14 studio albums... knowing you're only going to be playing maybe that many songs that evening? Whatever their calculation... they covered all their bases.

I'm not going to cover in detail every song they played. They've been around for 47 years (Yes, I’m counting Soft White Underbelly), and there are a boatload of detailed reviews of each song. So I will appease the reader with a smidgen of details on certain songs. Hits like “Burnin' for You,” “Godzilla,” and “(Don’t’ Fear) The Reaper” are "must-play" songs, but it was the oldies that had the crowd mesmerized. “Dancin' In The Ruins” was the surprise of the evening. This more commercial sounding song was delivered with enthusiasm, and sounded note for note like the original. How guitarist Buck Dharma maintains such a youthful sounding voice, at 67, is beyond me. He is the consummate professional.

“Shooting Shark” from 1983's Revolution By Night was incredible. While it was minus Randy Jackson on bass (Yes, Randy Jackson from American Idol), veteran bassist Kasim Sulton nailed it. Sulton is a pro's pro, having played with Joan Jett, Meatloaf and Todd Rundgren. “The Vigil,” from 1979's Mirrors LP, killed. Dharma ran the gamut, from a soft opening, onto killer riffs and a closing that garnered a standing ovation. This song seemed to be the evening sedative. “Then Came the Last Days of May,” from 1972, was the show breather. You could hear a pin drop, given that the song is so relaxing and — not a word I use often — delightful. “Hot Rails To Hell,” from 1973's Tyranny And Mutation, blew my son Chris' mind. When I told him it was released in 1973, he did the math. "Forty one years ago?" Yes... that's what 23-year-olds say when confronted with history right before their eyes. LOL!

The show concluded with 1972's “Cities On Flame,” from their self-titled debut album, but not without a couple of brain freezes. Vocalist and guitarist Eric Bloom finally caught up with the riffs, and delivered the song to a welcoming audience. Lick for lick, this seemed to be a crowd favorite. Those in the know knew it was the evening's final number.

Next to original members Dharma and Bloom, you can’t help but pick up on Richie Castellano. With BÖC since 2004, he is a multi-talented force to be reckoned and a highlight of the show. If he wasn't attending to the keyboards, he was delivering riffs that would melt your face. He didn't miss a note and, I hate to say it, really gave Dharma a run for his money. He's that good. Google him.

All in all, the show was a definite 9.5/10. One and a half-plus hours of legendary music being delivered by geriatrics that blow away many of the newcomers to the biz. Time-tested and true — that’s BÖC. If you have an opportunity to see them live, do so. Legends last forever. People don't.

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