A little over a decade ago the once-mighty Blue Öyster Cult were playing a half-empty Astoria when they visited London. So it’s great to see them sell able to sell out the far larger Forum in Kentish Town. Maybe it was their barnstorming set at last year’s Ramblin’ Man Fair in Maidstone that reminded people they still existed. Maybe the one-off performance of Agents of Fortune with Albert Bouchard guesting was a draw. Or maybe it was the nostalgia factor, like so many classic rock acts on the final laps of their careers, this might be a last chance to see.
Classic album in full shows have become increasingly common in recent years as an alternative to the standard greatest hits package, and Agents of Fortune makes an interesting choice. While it’s highly-regarded and contains their biggest hit it’s not a record that the band have tended to feature much in their live shows. Aside from The Hit, “ETI” and “This Ain’t The Summer of Love” are the only songs to have appeared in setlists for years, and then only infrequently.
BÖC began the show with the album, played in the original running order, opening with “This Ain’t The Summer of Love” followed by one of the band’s strangest songs, “True Confessions”, with Buck Dharma singing lead in place of the late Allen Lanier. Then came the big hit, Don’t Fear the Reaper, a song normally saved until the end of the set, greeted with huge cheers from the crowd. Even bigger cheers greeted the entrance of Albert Bouchard to sing “The Revenge of Vera Gemini”.
If anything, it was the second side of the original LP that proved the highlight. Albert sang lead on two further songs but remained on stage adding rhythm guitar and backing vocals to the rest, the multilayered songs benefiting from a sixth musician on stage. Two standouts were “Morning Final” with Richie Castellano singing lead and both he and Eric Bloom doubling up on keys, and the strange and sinister “Tenderloin”, perhaps Allen Lanier’s finest contribution to the songbook. After the strains of “Debbie Denise” died away, Eric Bloom announced a ten minute interval, after which they’d be back for more.
When they came back, “Dominance and Submission” was the start of a greatest hits set that at times made the first half look like a warm-up, full of songs about flying saucer cults, motorcycles and B-movie monsters. “The Golden Age of Leather” was a delight, and “Harvest Moon” from their 1998 comeback album “Heaven Forbid” was an unexpected surprise. One real highlight was a splendid “The Vigil” with some incredible fluid guitar work. “Last Days of May”, always a guitar showcase, featured extended solos from both Richie Castellano and Buck Dharma. Richie Castellano sang lead again on “Hot Rails to Hell”, and “Godzilla” was as monstrous as it’s ever been, for once not broken up with solos.
A storming “Me262″ led into Kasim Sulton’s bass solo (Oh no! The drumming has stopped!) which in turn led into something that BÖC haven’t done for years, when Albert Bouchard rejoined them on stage for the Five Guitars instrumental. Then a second drumkit was wheeled on stage from the grand finale, the band’s version of the Steppenwolf standard “Born to be Wild” with Albert on drums and Eric and Buck doing that famous crossed guitars thing from the early days.
When they returned for the encore. Eric said they were dedicating the show to Allen Lanier and Sandy Pearlman. First encore was another of Allen’s songs, the ballad “In Thee”. With Albert present, there were no prizes for guessing the final encore, his signature tune “Cities of Flame”, sung from behind the kit.
Apart from a disappointing lack of “Astronomy” it was a great set, though we could possibly have done without the hoary “Buck’s Boogie”. Taken as a whole it was a very long show, the second set alone was the length of a normal headline set. Albert Bouchard was on great form vocally, and on cowbell, and it’s good to see him back even it’s just a one-off guest appearance. But the real star was Buck Dharma, who’s effortless fluid guitar work has always been their secret weapon.
The combination of seldom-heard songs from a classic album and live favourites from right across their long career made for a gig that was memorable for all the right reasons.