By Thom Jennings
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).
In addition to their hits they threw in some excellent cover songs, “Live for the Music,” originally recorded by Bad Company, “ Just Got Paid” a ZZ Top song and “Travelin’ Band” a Creedence Clearwater Revival song. I took note that they covered two songs by bands performing in this year’s series.
The best cover of the night was “Good Times” a song originally done by the Easybeats, and later remade by INXS for the soundtrack of “The Lost Boys.” Unless you are from Australia, you may not have heard of The Easybeats, but the song is so good it really didn’t matter if you knew it beforehand.
As far as cover songs go, I’m not sure 38 Special could have chosen a song that suits them better.
Visually, the show was excellent as well. They had a simple banner with the band’s logo behind them, and just the right amount of fog. It also featured guitar and drum solos that weren’t overblown or drawn out.
The crowd was one of the best behaved I have seen in a long time. 38 Special’s pop friendly southern rock sound draws many pretty women, and they danced enthusiastically all night.
What really made the show work was Barnes and his great vocals. He sounded confident and it was clear he was having a great time onstage. His voice has not lost a bit over the years, that was especially noticeable on my favorite 38 Special song “Hold On Loosely.”
In many ways, I am surprised this show didn’t sell out. I’m not sure you can get a better value for $5 or $10.