Blue Cheer – Rock Europe (review)

Blue Cheer – Rocks Europe (Rainman) review

Heavy rock trailblazers’ last stand

One of the keys to success in life is to outlive all of your detractors.  Blue Cheer, once reviled by critics for their form of low brow sonic fury, are now hailed as pioneers of both modern heavy metal and punk.  Rocks Europe is a document of the band’s final tour before the passing of vocalist, bassist, and longest-tenured member, Dickie Peterson.

Listening to the band’s debut album, 1968‘s Vincebus Eruptum,  you can hear just how important they really were.  Hands down, there had never been a louder group – Peterson’s over-modulated bass, coupled with original guitarist Leigh Stephens’ screaming guitar, left record needles, and ear drums, crying for mercy.  And, the primal fury of Paul Whaley’s drums, along with their perfunctory melodies, thumbed their nose at the progressive rock that was just starting to gain momentum during the late Sixties.  The most surprising thing was that the band managed to take this sound to AM Radio, with their feedback-induced reworking of Eddie Cochran’s “Summertime Blues,” which unbelievably hit #14 on the Billboard charts in 1968.

Flash forward to this new live CD, recorded in 2008 for German television – it’s amazing how much of their original sound is still fully intact.  Peterson welcomes the crowd by saying “we’re Blue Cheer – and this is what we do,” before launching into a much-slower, menacing version of “Babylon,” off the band’s second long player, Outsideinside.   Peterson still has that gutteral growl when he sings “blues ain’t nothing but a good man feeling bad,”  while Andrew “Duck” MacDonald, who’s been with the band, on and off, since the Eighties, faithfully captures the original, unbridled guitar onslaught.

It’s amazing how much noise just three guys were able to make.

They completely obliterate Mose Allison’s “Parchment Farm” – and in doing so, show off just how influential this band really was.  The song opens with a chugging guitar riff, before slowing way down and getting quiet in the middle – boy, does this sound like what Black Sabbath would perfect just a few years later.

Not surprisingly, the band concentrates on their glory days – grabbing four songs from their debut, and three from the followup.  Of these, “Out of Focus,” which was the original b-side of “Summertime Blues,” stands up particularly well.

No song better sums up what Blue Cheer was all about than the unapologetic, 25-minute version of their drug anthem “Doctor Please,” complete with a six minute drum solo.  MacDonald wrings his wah wah-fueled guitar for some of the most hellish sounds ever to come out of the instrument.  Then, there’s seven-plus minutes of “Summertime Blues.”  Cochran’s original was buoyant pop, while on this rendition, they’re not only pissed about having the blues, they sound like they’re looking for something to break.

They’ve also included three tracks from their most recent offering, 2007’s What Doesn’t Kill You, which fit right in with the classic material.

As if the 80-minute concert wasn’t enough, the two-disc set is augmented by two recently-recorded studio tracks: “Alligator Boots” is classic Blue Cheer riffing, while they chose to melt another of Cochran’s classics, “Something Else” (here titled “She’s Something Else”).

Most guys, as they get older, either mellow out, or sound ridiculous trying to rock out.  That’s truly the testament to Rocks Europe – Blue Cheer was still able bring it.  Even as old dudes, they could still kick some ass.  –Tony Peters