Cheap Trick, Blue Öyster Cult

Pacific Amphitheatre

August 11, 2021

Cults, Tricks and the Greatest Show on Earth: Two beloved hard rock giants on one mega bill. Both, by the way, only including a couple of members from their classic lineups in their respective ranks. But by the same token, both still more than capable of wowing an amphitheatre crowd in Orange County on a Wednesday evening.

Blue Öyster Cult, for example, are fronted by classic lineup co-vocalists and guitarists Eric Bloom and Buck Dharma. But the current lineup has been together since 2004 (that’s 17 years now!), and they do no harm to their extensive legacy as they power through an all-too-short set.

Those that only know the band for “(Don’t Fear) the Reaper” are really doing themselves and the band a disservice. If you only know of them because of that SNL sketch, that’s worse. Of course they play it, and they play it beautifully. But the gorgeous, pining refrain of “Burnin’ for You” and the power stomp of “Godzilla” are the show’s real highlights. In many ways, Blue Öyster Cult are one of rock’s ignored bands. But by the time they leave the Pacific Amphitheatre stage, they’ve served this OC crowd a solid reminder that they’re still around and firing.

With Cheap Trick drummer Bun E. Carlos no longer touring and bassist Tom Petersson recovering from surgery, the band has suddenly become a family affair. Rick Nielsen’s son Daxx Nielsen occupies the drum stool, while Robin Zander’s son Robin Taylor Zander plays bass. It’s all very sweet when you think about it.

Yet when the intro tape describes them as the “best fucking rock band you’ve ever seen,” the robotic female voice couldn’t be more spot-on. It’s not so much that we don’t miss Carlos and Petersson — we certainly do. But the show doesn’t. Nielsen and Zander (seniors) were always the focal points anyway, and their offspring are savvy enough musos to make up the difference. Shit, they grew up with this stuff.

The set list is superb (although they played “He’s a Whore” on recent dates and not here dammit). “Hello There” opens things as it should, and they end with the other bookend “Goodbye Now.” Everything in-between is perfect; “Hot Love,” “The Summer Looks Good On You,” traditional covers of Fats Domino’s “Ain’t That a Shame” and the Move’s “California Man,” and Zander Jr. taking the mic for a spectacular “Downed.”

The closing hits are hair-raising; “The Flame,” “I Want You to Want Me,” “Dream Police,” and of course “Surrender.” It’s relentless.

Throughout, Zander struts in his white top hat (which makes way for a sparky police hat for “Dream Police” onwards) and looks like the consummate rock & roll frontman that he is. Unlike many of his vintage, his voice doesn’t sound like it’s losing power at all. Nielsen, as is his way, wanders around like a lost geezer who got up there by mistake. But then, in a flash, he’s on it. We know his little games.

So yeah, both bands were missing much-loved members. But they’ve still got plenty about them, and this gig was a doozy.

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