BLUE ÖYSTER CULT: ON YOUR FEET OR ON YOUR KNEES (1975)
1) The Subhuman; 2) Harvester Of Eyes; 3) Hot Rails To Hell; 4) The Red & The Black; 5) 7 Screaming Diz-Busters; 8) Buck's Boogie; 9) Last Days Of May; 10) Cities On Flame; 11) ME 262; 12) Before The Kiss (A Redcap); 13) Maserati GT (I Ain't Got You); 14) Born To Be Wild.
I guess we all saw that coming — a double live album, the ultimate prooftest for all of the era's art rock and hard rock performers. Even if the basic image and substance of Blue Öyster Cult was of the «meta-...» nature, and most of the music was sharply tongue-in-cheek, one should not forget that there was still a serious dividing line between the band's ideological gurus (Pearlman, Meltzer, the occasional Patti Smith, etc.) and the actual boys in the band, most of whom had authentic rock'n'roll hearts; in fact, were it otherwise, the band would have never made it so good. Behind all the irony, there was a real beast out there, and On Your Feet Or On Your Knees, culled from several performances from their 1974 tour in support of Secret Treaties, was clearly supposed to focus on the beast rather than the irony.
Not that «the beast», unleashed on the audience, is completely free of the irony. The biggest difference of these performances from their studio equivalents is that some of the songs are seriously stretched out — most notably, ʽME 262ʼ and ʽDiz-Bustersʼ — and by «stretching out», Blue Öyster Cult usually mean «engaging in ridiculously overdone guitar pyrotechnics», like the ʽFreebirdʼ solo or the sonic acrobatics that Mick Ronson would perform before the front rows of bedazzled screaming kids during a Ziggy Stardust show. Some of the time the stage show focuses on Buck Dharma's soloing, at other times Bloom joins him with «stun guitar», creating a high-wailing, sense-overloading wall of sound that plays up to the «rock hero» image about as much as it sends it up — anyway, whatever happens out there in the middle of ʽME 262ʼ isn't really «rock and roll» in its purest form (like at a Stones concert or something), more like a consciously staged behaviorist experiment. Not a criticism — just a statement.
The actual songs are not changed all that much from the studio versions, except for the tempos, dutifully sped up for extra excitement at some expense of playing precision — sometimes it is for the better (ʽThe Red & The Blackʼ), but sometimes it hurts: ʽCities On Flameʼ loses much of its demonic sheen by not allowing the guitar riff to fully realize its grin — the timing is off, and the main body of the song is over much too quickly. Unfortunately, the mix is not ideal, either, with the vocals suffering throughout and some of the subtleties of the rhythm guitar probably lost due to technicalities. It wouldn't matter if the losses were compensated for with added rock'n'roll excitement, but... see above on rock'n'roll excitement.
The setlist, while omitting several obvious highlights of the first three albums, is still quite strong, and features three further additions to the catalog. ʽBuck's Boogieʼ is a lengthy instrumental, most of it happening at breakneck speed and featuring the personal talents of Mr. Donald Roeser (as far as live performance goes, it was actually quite an oldie by 1974, and a studio version is now available as a bonus track on Tyranny And Mutation). ʽMaserati GTʼ is a reimagined version of the old Jimmy Reed tune ʽI Ain't Got Youʼ with lotsa extra jamming; and ʽBorn To Be Wildʼ is the band trying to be Steppenwolf — I suspect that it is actually a studio track thrown on at the last moment, maybe as a friendly gesture or because they had it lying around and didn't know what else to do with it. It's all passable, the only question being: why did they have to throw an excerpt from ʽCat's Squirrelʼ into both ʽBuck's Boogieʼ and ʽMaserati GTʼ? Is that an unpleasant hint at the paucity of improvisational imagination — or just an unfortunate coincidence?
In any case, while you can tell that I am not head-over-heels in love with the album, it would be useless to insist that the Blue Öyster Cult Machine is not a real machine, but just an imitation. They do pack a good punch; the problem is that there is too much «show» here and not nearly enough «spirit». When we're talking bands like the Stones, the Who, Led Zeppelin, or Deep Purple, in all those cases their classic live shows, different as they are from the studio activities, will rank at least as high as the studio activities. Blue Öyster Cult, on the other hand, seem to be primarily a studio-oriented band, even despite all the hard rock muscle that would seem so naturally geared towards live performance. But live, they are more of a «glam» act than a «rock» act, and this is why, like Bowie or T. Rex, no matter how much of a hell of a live show they could put on, and no matter how much their live records sold (and they did sell), they are more likely to be remembered for what they did in the studio. Still, thumbs up for all that hard work, and for featuring Buck Dharma in full flashy capacity for a change.