Album Review: Blue Cheer – Rocks Europe

They didn’t call it garage when ? And the Mysterians were playing “96 Tears.” They didn’t label it punk when The Stooges sang about “No Fun.” And they didn’t use the term heavy metal when Blue Cheer released their dipped-in-acid 1967 reading of Eddie Cochran‘s “Summertime Blues.” But heavy metal is most certainly what it was, though (as the new oral history Louder Than Hell – to be reviewed her soon – tells us) the genre label didn’t catch on for a few years hence.

Blue Cheer was the perfect band for listeners who found Cream too subtle. A few years before Black Sabbath took sludgy riffs and uber-heavy arrangements to their logical extreme, Blue Cheer was cranking out screaming tunes that aimed squarely for the gut, largely ignoring the head altogether. The band endured personnel changes and never made another album as truly definitive as their 1968 debut Vincebus Eruptum, but the band would be historically significant if all they had ever done was “Summertime Blues.”

Bassist/vocalist Dickie Peterson was the sole member to appear in all lineups of the band (save the wasteland years of 1975-83, a period during which Blue Cheer toured but released no new music). In 2008, the final lineup of the band – Peterson plus drummer Paul Whaley and guitarist Andrew “Duck” MacDonald – performed a concert for German television program Rockpalast; that set plus a pair of studio tracks has now been released as Blue Cheer Rocks Europe.

The set takes the listener right back in time: those super-heavy bass lines sometimes run in lockstep with the guitar riffage, and sometimes they hold things down while the lead axe wails. And Peterson shreds his vocal cords on an assortment of originals (some of which are relatively recent compositions) and well-worn covers that includes Mose Allison‘s “Parchman Farm” (and of course “Summertime Blues”). Listeners looking for subtlety and nuance had best steer clear of this set: instead, it’s a roaring, ear-splitting collection of in-your-face heavy-osity that demands undivided attention. Both ends of the sonic spectrum are filled: Peterson’s thunderous bass lines and Whaley’s precise yet lumbering drums play off of MacDonald’s fleet-fingered solos and power-chording riffage. It’s as if the 70s never happened, and – if, like me, you enjoy this sort of thing from time to time – that’s just fine.

It’s not made clear in the liner notes whether Peterson knew at the time of this performance (April 11, 2008) that he was suffering from prostate and liver cancer, but he passed away on October 2 of the following year. As such, Blue Cheer Rocks Europe stands as the final document of this influential band.

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