On Valentine's Day 2005 the Brain Surgeons played Glazart in Paris as the second date in their mini-Euro tour. This gig had added significance in that Les Vegas was booked to do a short set before tBS took the stage with Albert on drums, David Hirschberg on bass and Baz from Baz Limited on lead.
Les, as most Blue Oyster Cult fans will know, was lead singer of their earlier incarnation, the Soft White Underbelly from February 1968 to April/May 1969 so this was going to be a historic show, marking as it did the first appearance of Les and Albert on the same stage for 36 years!!
I've been fortunate to see some video of this set (thanks J Lou) and I'm gutted I missed it in person... What follows is how the whole thing came about in Les's own words...
Dom the Producer started talking about bringing me over to play with the Brain Surgeons. It didn't work out last year, but he called me and asked if I wanted to come over and meet up with the Surgeon's tour, this year in Paris.
Paris. We like Paris. On Valentines Day. Sweet, (as Little Mikey Vegas would say). I had a chat with Albert and found that he was up for it. My only concern was playing an acoustic set at a rock club. Acoustic sets are fine. I'm ready to play alone whenever it's right. But an acoustic set can't compete with a hot rock crowd and who doesn't want a hot crowd. And they're there to see the Brain Surgeons so they're thinking hard rock. The power of rock is a great advantage bands have in controlling their crowds. You're louder than they are. If not. Just turn it up. When people go to an acoustic set they generally have to act civilized. More civilized than a rock crowd up on its feet. So I wanted to play a rock set.
Albert said he and David (bass) could meet me at his place in NYC to run through a couple of tunes. I sent over some CDs of the set I expected to play. Then I went down to the city and we played together. Ross (the Boss) (their new guitarist) wasn't available. He and I had never really met. I saw him at the tribute to Helen Wheels. He was definitely a hot guitar. I knew he'd been with the Dictators, Sandy Pearlman's band, a few years after I'd left the Underbelly. But that was the night that Donald and Albert played together for the first time in years, it was crowded, and I never got to meet Ross. Anyway, he wasn't available, so I needed a good lead guitar.
Dom had been saying that there was a really good Parisian guitar player, who he thought would like to do it and would do a great job. Baz. I checked out his website and said yeah. I sent over a set on CD, and hoped for the best. We tried to arrange a rehearsal in Paris, but in the end, as it turned out, we met him the afternoon of the gig, at the sound check.
My wife, the lovely Carol DeCarlo, and I have been to Paris several times in the last few years. It really is great. Beautiful. Very good food. Cafes. Everything they say is great about Paris, is. And I don't have a problem with the people. They have a sense of themselves. Every people should. As for the women - I like them. I'd like one as an au pair. Carol doesn't think we need one, but I know she'd take a Thai houseboy in a minute.
So we get to Paris the day before Valentines, and we stroll and eat like les petites cochon (pigs). One thing we love to do, traveling anywhere in Europe, is bring along a sharp folding knife, and buy bread, cheese, sausages etc. Great in the hotel room, or parked on the side of a country road. Carol finds a good red wine. I'm not into wine, myself. Sometimes I wish I were, people do seem to enjoy it. Vietnamese fast food across from the hotel, too.
On the first day I had to tune my 12 string. I had learned the hard way, what happens to a tightly strung 12 string on a long airplane ride. That was an old Martin 12. It retired after a rough trip back from the BOC related gigs in Hollywood. This one's a brand new Fender acoustic 12 string. I'd loosened the strings before the flight.
In the 60s, I wandered around the world with a Fender acoustic 12 string guitar. It was very rare. I never saw another one. It had a steel rod running right down through the whole thing. I don't remember where I found it but I must have bought it with some Blue Frog money. It was a great guitar. Like carrying a little orchestra. Even though I just beat it like a savage. Fender, of course, was one of the primary rock guitar makers, but you rarely saw a Fender acoustic. Now - Globalization. Fender keeps a close eye (I would say) on the quality as they build all sorts of guitars in China. They get paid nothing like Americans would, but they do get paid many times what they were getting before. And we can buy a very nice Fender guitar for one third the cost of many equivalents. This seems to be the process as things equalize. It can be OK.
Soooo. I had de-tuned the guitar before the flight, and I tuned it the first day at the hotel in Paris.
Many people had suggested I tune it down two half steps. Better for the guitar, and a little easier to sing, too. But you know, I think it takes a little edge out of the excitement of the vocal. But I figured maybe OK. I have an infallible modern digital tuner. I tuned it two half steps low.
The next day we took the Metro (we like it) out to the Glazart club on the outskirts of Paris. It was a two mile walk from the Metro stop to the club which turned out to be across the street from the Metro stop. Hmmmm. But as it turned out, Albert and Deborah and Dom and everyone else were just getting there too.
The Surgeons started their sound check. Baz turned up. Looked cool. Seemed like a nice guy. He had designed and manufactured his electric guitar made of stainless steel. I started to tune my guitar and I realized that changing the keys of the songs was a complication I didn't need for a band just meeting each other. So I tuned up to full pitch, and popped my highest string. No problem. I always carry some extras of that string. I put a new one on. Was tuning it up when I make the classic 12 string mistake, turn the wrong machine, and PoP! I've blown a fat one. No problem I have two full 12 string sets. But no... that one string has been taken from each set.
Hmmmmmmmm. So no else has the string, I can tell I'm starting to make Baz a little nervous. But man, no problem. I had a case full of things very like that string. I made it work. Right pitch, no buzz. OK.
On stage for the sound check. The only moment we were going to have, to play these songs together. I started with Rational Passional, the old Underbelly song, because we were starting the set with it. Albert was right on it. He'd played it. And David, was right on it too. We'd practiced once. And Baz was right there - and just took off on his leads. Just what we needed. We ran through the set once. Played Great Balls of Fire to have an encore ready and then went and ate a fine and tasty French supper. Lamb, pasta, gravy, fresh bread, salad. I don't know who supplied that, the club or Dom, our fearless producer, but in any case, the chef made it, and we ate it.
After dinner the opening act started. A good French band. They were interesting. Somewhat surrealist. I don't remember their name. Someone will. And we went backstage to get ready. We shot some fun backstage video with Albert, Deborah, and the boys, (maybe we'll send some).
Whenever we're in France Carol and I always start a big evening with a little "Ecoute Minou". People call it Pussy Cat Drops. Made from a hormonal extrusion collected from Parisian women in the peaks of l'amour. Expensive, but it's lovely and it's Paris. Dom had some too. Baz already had a live supply of French women on hand. Swedish too.
The set went great. Good house full of people having a good time. I had the set digitally taped and in a few days I'll send some over to the Hullsite. Here's what we played (I know you like set lists Ralph):
Rational Passional - Because I wanted to play an Underbelly tune. This was a two chord tune, which is perfect for an impromptu band. Since I used to make up tunes at the last minute or on the spot with the Underbelly, I thought I'd at least write a verse for the Paris crowd. Since Rational Passional was in part an anti-war song back in the 60s, I added this for Paris:
"I was here in Paris playin
and I thought I should be sayin
something 'bout the assholes taking us to war
I guess it makes you wonder
when you see my country blunder like this
Have the people lost their minds for sure?
The bandits of the hour
in their lust for oil and power
Have a vision of a world that they must fight
But my friends there is another,
we are sisters we are brothers
And together we are stronger cause we're right"
Then we did Scratch Around which is a blues tune so Baz got to dance around on that.
"Livestock Honey, you're like the poultry on the ground
Some folks gobble, you, scratch around "
Then we did Whipporwill - My existentialist cowboy song. Baz played with this thing in his hand. I forget what you call it. It makes the guitar moan.
Then we played Dark Angel. Everybody wailed. Albert, David Baz... And I got to sing out pretty good too.
After that Albert came up to my mic and pointed out to the crowd that we hadn't publicly played together since 1969. I hadn't thought about that. Kind of historic for us.
Even though they didn't happen to be applauding then, I figured the folks would like a last song so we kicked into Great Balls of Fire. There had been some discussion about this song, was it right for a modern Parisian audience. But I was sure they'd like it. Come on, an old Jerry Lee Lewis tune. Went down fine. We waved and left the stage.
Then The Brain Surgeons. I hadn't heard them play in years. They were very strong and tight. Ross is a perfect match. He supplies a kind of power guitar that I always felt in Donald. The songs were, as usual, beautiful complicated structures played with power. They can excite a crowd. Albert can give you the details.
As their set ended Carol and I slipped off to the last Metro and our bed, where we dreamed of stainless steel guitars, french sausage, and Can Can pussy cats.
Les - March 05