Two rock heavyweights returned to the Artpark stage Tuesday night, Blue Oyster Cult and 38 Special each played a solid set of hits, but it was 38 Special that clearly ruled the evening in spite of the absence of one of its founding members.
Shortly after 6:30 p.m., Blue Oyster Cult got the evening started with a song they likely played in 1974 during Artpark’s opening season, “The Red & the Black.” The early part of the set was tight and concise, and both Eric Bloom’s and Buck Dharma’s vocals sounded better than they had when the band was at Artpark a couple of years ago.
With only an hour to play, there were no surprises, and the band jammed in their big hits “Burnin’ for You,” “Godzilla” and the song that inspired “More Cowbell,” “Don’t Fear the Reaper,” which ended their set. Strangely enough, the song could have used more cowbell.
38 Special is touring without founding member Donnie Van Zant, who is dealing with inner ear issues. Van Zant has been the band’s cheerleader so I was curious how the band would perform in his absence.
Surprisingly, the absence of Van Zant put more pressure on lead vocalist/guitarist Don Barnes, and boy did he make the best of his opportunity to be the face and voice of 38 Special. Barnes had an enthusiasm in his playing, singing, and even in the way he spoke to the crowd that was incredibly impressive.
While 38 Special and B.O.C are not similar musically, it’s hard not to compare them since they were on the same bill. 38 Special had the advantage of having a huge collection of toe tapping radio hits, so many that they had to perform an extended medley instead of full versions of all them.
They also threw in “Second Chance,” a ballad that is the band’s biggest hit, released when Don Barnes wasn’t in the lineup. Keyboardist Bobby Capps handled the lead vocals and did a great job. (The song’s original vocalist Max Carl is currently a member of Grand Funk and he regularly sings the song with them).