Blue Cheer's Place in MySpace
How does "the first true heavy metal band" (according to the Village Voice) stay fresh after 40 years? Find out how by reading Kurt Brokaw's review of the band's recent New York performance. Another way is to go to MySpace!
An Evening with The Worlds' Loudest Rock Band
By Kurt Brokaw, Culture Editor
The load-in. It's a late Friday afternoon and the storm clouds over Brooklyn are darkening. I'm sipping ice water at the bar at Northsix, a rock club that used to be in frontier territory just a block from the East River. North Sixth Street is slowly taking on that all-glass-and-no-class look that's very nearly wrecked the Lower East Side of Manhattan. I've got my six original Blue Cheer vinyl albums propped up on the stool beside me.
Dickie Peterson is the first one out of the Blue Cheer van and I recognize him instantly even though it's been 38 years since he took away a bit of my hearing at some West Coast show. He strides into Northsix carrying his bass guitar, and with that hair and bracelets and cowboy boots and little tinted glasses and bad skin and that psychedelic aura even at age 59 radiating from him, we might as well be standing in the Haight in the Summer Of Love. Peterson is small and coiled, but he has a cocky walk and suggests a cross between Gregory Corso and Sam Peckinpah.
I'm the only fan at Northsix this early to greet the band, and he sees I'm a decade older and have all the original albums sitting there. He pumps my hand and gives me a wicked grin and says, "I'll get back to you, brother." and heads in for the soundcheck. The next one in is Paul Whaley, Blue Cheer's original drummer, who I don't recognize at all. He's also 59, and started the band as a long-haired freak like Peterson, but in his sports shirt, baggy shorts, ordinary haircut and turned-around baseball cap he looks like an aging Bowery Boy. He has steady eyes and a powerful grip.
Blue Cheer was named after a brand of street acid invented by Owsley Stanley, who for decades was the drug chemist for The Grateful Dead and other bands that comprised the San Francisco Sound. Patricia Kennealy Morrison and I were at RCA Records handling the advertising and promotion for Jefferson Airplane, and we knew Blue Cheer was a breed apart from the gentle souls of Quicksilver, It's A Beautiful Day, Pacific Gas & Electric, and such. Peterson, Whaley and a lead guitarist set out not just to become the first power trio in rock, but the loudest band in the history of the universe.
The Cheer piled Marshall amps as high as an elephant's eye, and routinely hit sonic stun--130 decibels and beyond, which is about what standing beside a 747 throttling up on the runway is like. The one volume anecdote that's come down through the years is that a large dog that was brought along to a 60s outdoor concert was so traumatized by the sound that he fell over dead at his owner's feet. Blue Cheer made half a dozen albums going through a number of lead guitarists, disbanded in the early 70s and reformed a decade later. Peterson's done a few solo albums but he's kept Blue Cheer pushing through Europe in the 80s and 90s and now into the 21st century, and like the few iron men in rock still alive and standing, he's in it for the long haul.
After the soundcheck--I'm still the only fan who's shown up this early--Whaley and Peterson sign my albums with care and affection. Their lead guitarist Andrew "Duck" MacDonald has been with them two decades and signs my live and quite rare 1988 concert album, "Blitzkrieg Over Nuremberg." He's about 50 and has that handsome build and long straight hair past the shoulders that's probably broken a lot of hearts on the road. Peterson has spent some years in Europe and tells me he's got one good ear and is currently between marriages. This is the first time Blue Cheer's played New York in 20 years and they've already had sold-out shows at Maxwells and CBGBs. The advance at Northsix looks good.
The Show. It's a full house. Debbie at the bar has let me in early to secure the end space on the top row of bleachers that's 100 feet from center stage. It's as far away as I can get and not have to stand. To my pleasant surprise, the crowd is mostly young--post-college, metrosexuals, more smart-looking women in their 20s than I'd expect. This is not your Arctic-Monkeys-Cute-Boy group. This is the Hard Stuff.
When Blue Cheer hits the stage I've got my ear plugs in, under a wool headband under my thickest earmuffs. Peterson has frizzed his hair out to its fullest and thickest, and changed into a layered, tie-dyed, beaded costume that's both seedy and dazzling. He's a rock god--a guitarist with absolute clarity and authority who still looks like he could collapse in some doorway at any time and never get up.
They do a tight, powerful two-hour set of all the Cheer anthems--"Summertime Blues," "Rock Me Baby," "Out of Focus," "Second Time Around", "Doctor Please." Peterson's voice is its usual hard, blasting rasp. Whaley's drumming is incredibly fast and blazing. The sound is overwhelming and the crowd is with it but most people are standing transfixed and the metal bleachers I'm sitting in are actually vibrating. I'm wondering if someone closer to the stage and amps is going to fall over like that dog, but no one does. Whatta show.
They do one long encore and the house-lights are coming up at 1:30 a.m. I think about going backstage to congratulate the band, but there's a long line waiting for the dressing room and hey, it's a lot of 19-year-old fashionistas in their off-the-shoulder numbers. I figure Blue Cheer's paid their respects to this senior citizen and would do better with some fresh blood. Rockers always do.
This is the link to the rating/professional comments on the ten loudest bands in the history of rock music. It's instructive, funny, horrifying, and probably should be required reading for every kid who's tempted to sit up close to a stack of Marshalls.
Check out Blue Cheers' summer tour dates on MySpace. - The Editors