Oysterband - The 25th Anniversary Concert
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The 25th Anniversary Concert
Westpark DVD

cd cover Dateline: 1987. I enter a music shop in Middletown, Connecticut, eager for some new sounds. My eyes wander over the folk cassettes (remember those?), and spy the Oyster Band's Step Outside. I purchase the tape, literally step outside, and the Oysters rarely leave my car stereo.

Was it so long ago? The Oysterband were one of the first folk-rock/roots bands that I ever loved. I've had the privilege of seeing them twice, as they have rarely come to America, but what shows the Oysters mount. There are people up in Northampton, MA who, a decade after the Oysterband's Iron Horse Music Hall show, still get misty-eyed over that evening. So, to have a DVD of the Oysterband's 25th Anniversary Concert is a blessing.

Recorded at the Forum in London, and produced and mixed by Al Scott (whose studio expertise seems to bring out the best in the band), the 25th Anniversary Concert delivers on everything that you would expect from a show designed for reminiscing. Watching and listening to this DVD drives home the fact that the Oysters have, for 25 years, delivered uncompromising, consistently excellent material.

From the start, the excitement is palpable. John Jones emerges to begin the concert with the Welsh verses that preface "Native Son," and from then on, the band and the audience explode. The Oysters look older, as one would expect, and the audience as well: but to see the Oysterband get the older folkies to pogo along with the younger part of the crowd is an experience.

The band delivers each song solidly, and the theatrics are present: who else can swing and drag their upright bass across the stage like Chopper? Others may imitate John Jones' vocal delivery, but the man delivers drama and rollicking joy like no one else. James O'Grady, uillean piper, joins the band for much of this set, and his contribution to the Oyster sound is superlative. June Tabor joins the band for the Freedom and Rain-era "Mississippi Summer," and then leads the Oysters down the rabbit-hole for a scorching run at Jefferson Airplane's "White Rabbit." Chumbawamba Acoustic are the other guests, filling in vocals for "This Is the Voice."

Eighteen songs strong, so many memories. "The Lost and Found" still packs an emotional wallup; "Everywhere I Go" is the requisite crowd sing-along; and of course, "When I'm Up I Can't Get Down" and "Blood Wedding" are greeted with a wash of audience recognition (and more than just a wash of alcohol). The DVD makes you feel a part of this brilliant evening, and it is worth mentioning that the adoration the crowd and the band feel for one another is palpable. There is real affection amongst the Oysters and their fans. When June Tabor and Chumbawamba Acoustic return at the end of the show to sing a goosebump-inducing "Bright Morning Star" with the band, you can hear a pin drop. It is so beautiful to see all involved bursting with song.

Dateline: Now. Still listening, and anticipating many more years of Oysterband music. Happy Anniversary. - Lee Blackstone

Warning: Be advised that the sound on the 'Behind the Scenes' bonus feature appears not to be synced correctly with people's mouths. This can make for a disorienting experience, especially after a few pints.

The band's web site: www.oysterband.co.uk

The DVD is available from cdRoots in both NTSC and PAL editions.

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