SAN JUAN CAPISTRANO — In the mid-'70s, such hard rockers as Led Zeppelin, Black Sabbath and Deep Purple ruled the airwaves and filled arenas with guitar pyrotechnics, bombastic stage antics and, at the time, rebellious image.
One band that teens adored and parents loathed was Blue Oyster Cult. Known mainly for its inventive laser light shows and a gloomy sci-fi image, the quintet from New York City actually provided silly but harmless entertainment with such anthems as "Cities on Flame With Rock 'n' Roll" and "Stairway to the Stars."
But, hearing the group play to a less-than-capacity New Year's Eve crowd at the Coach House, one realized just how irrelevant and dull BOC has become. Such old-timers as Neil Young and John Hiatt have remained viable, if not vital, to pop music with strongly focused new releases, but BOC's latest recording of new material harks back to 1988's "Imaginos," and the band is introducing only one new song--the very familiar-sounding "I'd Like to See You in Black"--on its current tour.
Still featuring original members Eric Bloom (vocals, guitar), Donald Roeser, a.k.a. Buck Dharma (lead guitar, vocals) and Allen Lanier (keyboards, guitars) along with newer arrivals Danny Miranda on bass and John Miceli on drums, BOC deserved some credit for working hard to breathe some fire into several of its more durable numbers.
There were memorable moments during "Then Came the Last Days of May," as Dharma's stirring, bluesy guitar intro segued into a feisty, rollicking, frenetic solo, and "In Thee," when Lanier strapped on an acoustic guitar for a welcome, folksy rendering. The jangly guitars and sweet harmonizing during the band's two biggest hits, "'Don't Fear the Reaper" and "Burnin' for You," were reminders that the boys can play catchy pop tunes.
But far more prominent during the two-hour set were unimaginative songwriting, obligatory solos, uneven pacing and Bloom's tuneless singing. (Fortunately, Dharma took over vocals on several songs and added harmonies on others.)
In any case, nothing could have prevented the embarrassments of the drivel in the lyrics of "O.D.'d on Life Itself," "E.T.I. (Extra Terrestrial Intelligence)," "Joan Crawford" and "Dominance and Submission." C'mon, does anyone really want to hear men in their 40s singing about a cartoonish monster that terrorizes Tokyo?
Opening act AWOL (A World of Love), a blues-rock band from Palm Springs, still seemed to be searching for its own style and sound. Its cover of an Eric Clapton song fared better than the misfiring originals, which ranged from the mundane "2 Hot 2 Handle" to the bashing, repetitious "Jury's Still Out on You."