Buck Dharma’s bandmates in Blue Öyster Cult surprised him with a cheerful rendition of the Beatles’ “Birthday” at the VooDoo on Saturday. Dharma, the crackerjack guitarist born Donald Roeser on Nov. 12, 1947, in New York, gamely added a few rousing licks to the festive song.
The entirety of the rock band’s 90-minute set felt like a defiant celebration of a bygone era. When the five musicians wistfully sang “our best years have passed us by” in the a cappella introduction of “Age of Golden Leather,” they might have been tacitly acknowledging their diminished stature. An arena headliner in the late 1970s, Blue Öyster Cult attracted about 600 loyal fans on Saturday.
After coalescing in the 1960s, Blue Öyster Cult positioned itself as a mildly ironic and somewhat brainier alternative to hard rock and heavy metal bands like Black Sabbath. In spite of incessant touring, the group’s 14 studio albums yielded only three mainstream hits: 1976’s “(Don’t Fear) The Reaper,” 1977’s “Godzilla” and 1981’s “Burnin’ For You.”
Renditions of those songs were clear audience favorites, but admirable interpretations of lesser-known material were no less entertaining. Along with the accomplished bassist Kasim Sulton, multi-instrumentalist Richie Castellano and drummer Jules Radino, original members Dharma and Eric Bloom opened the show with “The Red & the Black,” a heavy metal touchstone with the vicious refrain “you kill, you maim.”
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The band demonstrated its range on the 180-proof boogie of “OD’d On Life Itself,” the charming pub-rock of “True Confessions,” the proto-punk of “Tattoo Vampire” and on the audaciously ghoulish “Joan Crawford.” Bloom gesticulated like a madman as he belted out “Lips in the Hills,” a composition he said was “a love song about an acid trip.”
Bloom’s gregarious showmanship was countered by Dharma’s brooding guitar work and understated vocals. Some of his swagger has dissipated, but Dharma sounded as consequential as ever while recreating the colossal riffs and masterful solos of “Godzilla.” He admirably opted for nuance rather than flash on an extended solo showcase that preceded “(Don’t Fear) The Reaper.”
A stagehand peering over a stack of amplifiers handled cowbell duties on the classic rock staple. A popular “Saturday Night Live” skit in which Will Farrell advised that the band apply “more cowbell” to the recording of “(Don’t Fear) The Reaper” threatened to turn Blue Öyster Cult into a punch line. Saturday’s outing served notice that even what’s likely to be the final stage of its extended career, the band is anything but a joke.
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