Review: Last Alive at Five show stuck in the ’80s

For a free concert it took a while to feel like we were getting our money’s worth.
Blue Oyster Cult
Blue Oyster Cult

Albany’s Alive at Five 2015 Concert Series ended Thursday night with Blue Oyster Cult, and with local fun guys Blotto opening for them.

If nothing else, Blue Oyster Cult delivered their three hits with some skill, and the audience received them well, but nothing came close to igniting the crowd, or the band.

They played “Burnin’ for You” as the third song, a standard move for them and smart, since nothing happened with the first two. At first it sounded pretty cool, but soon enough it dragged into a cliché early ’80s sound, prompting the person next to me to mutter, unprompted, “They sound stuck in mud.”

Original member Donald Roeser, better known as Buck Dharma, was front man for most of the show, playing lead guitar and singing a majority of the songs, including “Burnin’ for You.” The vocal range on these tunes are minimal, and Roeser’s singing sounded fine: the song asked for very little and he delivered the minimal amount needed.

To really bring things down early in the show, Roeser brought on his mother-in-law — with his wife — for us all to sing her happy birthday. The city should consider contractually ensuring no band ever do that again.

Eric Bloom, the other original on stage, told the crowd that he and Roeser met in a music store in 1968. That is a lot of years together. Long Island boys, the remainder of the band members were all from parts of New York.

After 45 minutes into the show — including the very weak “Career of Evil” — they played a lengthy, stronger instrumental song that sounded a bit like Molly Hatchet at its best. They warned us they were going to “stretch out” a bit, and they did in length, but not in depth. They played fast, and aggressively, but all safe and well-rehearsed parts and transitions.

And before you knew it, they were onto their two big ones, starting with “Godzilla.”

“It just flattened Schenectady,” Bloom yelled. “Now it’s flattened Cohoes,” he added, showing off his local knowledge. This song started well, the full capacity crowd packed across the entire lawn came alive. It’s actually a silly song, and dated, but everyone took it seriously enough.

“Fear the Reaper” is a great song, the kind good enough to sustain a band all these years, and they played it smoothly, Roeser’s voice sounding good here. For a free concert it finally felt like we were getting our money’s worth.

While Blue Oyster Cult took themselves seriously, Blotto did the absolute opposite. That’s not to say they didn’t play hard, but they’ve always teetered on the satirical edge — part hard work, and part Saturday Night Live skit. The band and the act has aged well. In fact, you can’t picture their shtick working for them in their old days, when they were a young group with a more ambitious agenda.

Songs like “My Baby’s the Star of a Driver’s Ed Movie” and “She’s Got a Big Boyfriend” were thoroughly enjoyable, and no one seemed to have more fun than the Blotto members. While these comedy routines can fall flat with an outdoor free-concert listening-challenged crowd, the audience was clearly paying attention and rooting for their home-team band.

Along with a few covers, like the Stones’ “All Over Now,” which was quite good, and “Secret Agent Man,” (I heard a nearby young man ask his friend, “Secret Asian Man?”), they closed with their big one, “I Want to Be a Lifeguard,” a pure put-on that was fresh back in the day and had the good fortune of airing on MTV’s first day of broadcasting.

We learned that they opened for Blue Oyster Cult at Alive at Five 17 years ago. And opened for them years before that in the Midwest.

“This is great. We should do this every 20 years,” said one of the Blotto members. Mark it on the calendar.

Categories: Entertainment, News

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