Monday, April 26, 2010

Concert Review: Oysterband

Originally uploaded by raise my voice
Festival Place, Sherwood Park
April 24, 2010

Review by Paula E. Kirman

My first experience seeing Oysterband live was at the 2009 Edmonton Folk Music Festival (at which I took the photo included in this review). The band's mix of Celtic, folk, rock, and punk (mostly in presence and attitude) completely blew me away, and in the months that followed I diligently set upon a mission of collecting the band's music and listening to it obsessively.

Obviously then, when I found out that Oysterband was going to be passing through Edmonton again (well, Sherwood Park to be precise, but close enough) I got tickets at the first opportunity and then patiently waited for four months until the concert.

Good things definitely do come to those who wait. Two hours filled with energy and good vibes - and of course, good music. The band played around 20 songs which included "Native Son" (with the introduction sung in Welsh by lead vocalist John Jones), numerous tracks from the band's recent album Meet You There like "Over the Water" and the title track (which has a really great hook to it), and, of course, "When I'm Up (I Can't Get Down)," the song made famous by Canada's Great Big Sea.

Many of the songs had an acoustic flair to them, not only because acoustic instruments (violin, guitar, cello) are at the heart of Oysterband's sound, but because they are from Oxford Girl, the band's most recent release in honour of their 30th anniversary. It features different, usually scaled-down, arrangements of some of the band's best-known songs over the years. However, I was practically jumping out of my seat when they did the full-on electric version of "By Northern Light" as well as "Rise Above," one of my very favourite Oysterband songs.

One of the things I admire most about Oysterband (besides their music, of course) is their outspoken political beliefs. Remarks about Alberta's tar sands, disillusionment with British politics, and the need for peace in Afghanistan and Iraq ("Because the other way isn't working") were conversation topics with the audience, in addition to encouraging everyone to sing along.

The intimate venue (Festival Place, which is a popular stop for singer/songwriters) sold out the night of the concert and was filled with both fans and people who had only just became aware of Oysterband. I brought with me a friend who is in the latter category and by the end of the evening he was converted into a fan. The same could be said of another couple at our table who bought the tickets at random and did not know what to expect. "We will definitely have to watch for them to come through again," they said as they left.

As for me, it was incredible to see the band perform, now that I have more of a familiarity with their songs. OK, I have more than just a familiarity - I was mouthing the words to most of them. I also saw that these are five very down to earth guys, who took the time after such a giving performance to come out to the lobby afterwards and chat and sign autographs.

You may have trouble finding the band's CDs outside of the UK but they are available on their website as well as on iTunes. Lead singer John Jones and bassist/cellist Ray "Chopper" Cooper have recently released solo albums that are also well worth a listen, and can be found on iTunes and CDBaby.

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