Friday, July 25, 2008

Free Blue Oyster Cult Show in Santa Cruz

I had been waiting all Summer for this show. My favorite Rock band, the Blue Oyster Cult came to Santa Cruz to perform live at the Boardwalk. I brought my wife, our outdoor chairs, some beach towells and food. We left a little late, still a good 40 minutes before the show, but the traffic backed up at least 2 miles from the venue.

We ended up parking right in front of my late brother's home, a place I visited during my college years and enjoyed listening to the BOC on his turntable. I wished I could have parked closer, but the boardwalk lots were showing "Full" signs. We wended our way across the San Lorenzo River and looked for parking as close as possible near the trestle bridge that links the Seabright neighborhood to the Boardwalk. The first 3 blocks had permit parking signs and we saw people walking toward the Boardwalk from where there were no parking restrictions. We found a spot right in front of my late brother's old place. It was as though he was looking after us.

We schlepped our items down the long streets and across the bridge. That seemed to be the easy part because nothing would have prepared us for the mangy crowd at the Boardwalk. There were people everywhere and so tightly packed in it was difficult to negotiate the chairs and bags we carried. As we got closer to the concert area, marked by a huge stage, about 10 feet above the beach sands, facing the amusement park, we could hear the band playing "Burning for You."

They sounded very crisp. I could tell it was going to be a fine show. Getting to the sand so we could set up our chairs and towels became another challenge. We followed a security officer who was helping a young man and found a wooden aisle running between the towels and masses of people enjoying the show. The wooden walkway also passed directly in front of the band. We needed to be on the right side of the stage because we had a friend and her two nieces coming, one of whom was deaf. The concerts at the Boardwalk always have an sign language interpreter on the right front corner of the stage. So, we passed directly in front of the band. We were about 20 feet from Buck Dharma nad Eric Bloom who were belting out "Cities on Flame with Rock and Roll." With no one or nothing but a little sand between me and the band's remaining original members, I almost felt like saying "Hi Eric! Hi Buck!" but they looked a little busy crunching out the riffs for me to bother. They seem so familiar, yet I've never actually been personally acquainted with them.

We found a small area of sand between the towels and blankets for us to set up. As we unloaded our gear, I caught Buck doing his usual lacing and stretching his fingers right before tearing off on his signature solo. I accidentally stepped on a woman's bare feet while settling in. She was there with her husband and kids who seemed to be enjoying the concert. Lots of beach balls went flying and bouncing around the crowd. The children seemed to be very interested in catching and sending the balls on their way.

The rest of the set included "Shooting Shark", a searing "Buck's Boogie" and "Don't Fear the Reaper." It was a very short session, about 45 minutes in all. The band seemed to be enjoying themselves and the crowd. Right before the Reaper, Buck lost a string on his guitar and had to saddle up with another axe. He needed a little time to tune it and I'm not sure it was completely ready, but he played it anyway. Eric Bloom, introduced the song reminding everyone of the Saturday Night Live "Cowbell" routine. He acknowledged all of the fans who brought their own cowbells and invited them to join in.

The session ended with the band promising to reprise a couple of songs in the second set, but it was going to take more than an hour before they'd come out again.

During the break, quite a few people left or moved and made a little more room for us to spread out. Our friends arrived about 10 minutes before the second set began. The band came out with a bang. They launched into "The Red and the Black" whipping up the crowd into a frenzy. The followed it with "Harvester of Eyes" then "Burning For You." The next song was a real treat,this one from their first album - "Before the Kiss, A Redcap." Buck's solos were smoking and the band sounded really tight. Then came a very excellent "Black Blade." Following that, Buck introduced "Harvest Moon" from their "Heaven Forbid" album. Eric Bloom called out the monster that ravaged Tokyo "Godzilla" and during the song's interlude introduced bassist Rudy Sarzo, formerly of Quiet Riot, Whitesnake and Ozzy. They played a few riffs from those bands then finished "Godzilla." The nightfall came on during this set and as it got darker, our nostrils filled with the stench of Marijuana. If anyone who was their reads this blog and was doing that, I have a message for you and it's this: I haven't been into Pot for about 30 years now and don't intend to, but please, if you are going to smoke pot, stay away from the skunk weed. That's just awful. Some people were smoking undoubtedly better stuff, but that smell mixed with the skunk weed just sucks. Another thing. It seemed that when the second set started there were bunches of young men and women appearing out of nowhere walking across the towels not seeming to know where they were going. This went on from 10 to 20 minutes and made it very distracting for everyone else. The band finished their set with another "Don't Fear the Reaper" only this time with an even more impassioned guitar solo from Buck Dharma. Band members Eric Bloom, Richie Castellano and Rudy Sarzo made trips to all sides of the stage to energize the crowd and then Buck himself did the same during his second solo. The crowd went nuts. This band knows how to play for its audience.

It still didn't seem like enough. The lady MC announced the end the of the show, but the crowd wasn't buying it. Eric Bloom came out one and said the band had time for one more and then blistered everyone with "Hot Rails To Hell." The crowed was all on its feet and we took that as our cue to pull up the chairs and towel and pack it in.

Wading through the boardwalk crowd seemed even more challenging. It had not thinned at all and everyone seemed to be a few notches up on the inebriation scale. My wife and I made a plan for me to fetch the car while she waited at the entrance to the boardwalk. It seemed that everyone who headed in my direction was drunk or stoned. Even those who brought their bicycles. I passed by a group of cops detaining a man who was sitting on the ground complaining of his treatment. There had also been a medical emergency out on the beach sand during "Godzilla."

After making it past the trestle bridge and walking through the Seabright streets I noted a few revelers arguing and cussing over who was going to get to drive. Above them on an apartment balcony were a couple of young children listening and then talking back to the revelers. Everyone else I saw walking down the streets or getting into cars was staggering and falling over themselves. I finally made it to my car and drove back to pick up my wife at the Boardwalk entrance. A couple of drunks lurched nearby, but they didn't seem to be bothering her.

I was glad to make it home safe and sound. I love the Blue Oyster Cult, but it seemd like paying for tickets and seeing them in a bar as I did a couple of years ago in San Francisco would be a safer and more sensible way to go.

Observances on the band: Buck Dharma just seems to keep doing his thing. He's a great soloist to watch and listen to. He draws you right in and just plays. Eric Bloom seems to be losing his voice. There are certain songs like "Astronomy" and "Going Through the Motions" that really highlight his vocals. They don't play those at the live shows anymore and I can see why. Eric brought up his New York Baseball teams. He announced that the Yankees and his favorite, the Mets both won, but alas no one Northern California would have known any better. He was happy the Philadelphia Phillies lost, but again, this didn't do anything for this largely stoned-out West Coast crowd. I was a little surprised to note that Allen Lanier was missing in the line-up. Turns out, he stopped touring with the band in 2006.

They are a great band to watch and they keep touring. They are one of those 'On Tour Forever' bands, but in their case who knows how long 'Forever' will last.

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