Pop Music Reviews : The Oyster Band: In One Era and Out Another


The Oyster Band once released an album titled “English Rock ‘n’ Roll, the Early Years: 1800-1850.” Obviously, this group draws on traditions going back a bit further than Elvis and the Beatles. But at McCabe’s on Sunday, the Oysters proved to be as adept at rock, 1989 style, as at English folk styles. Maybe better.

The veteran band finds as much folk value (i.e. topicality) in such rock material as New Order’s “Love Vigilantes” as it finds rock value (i.e. explosiveness) in the traditional words and music it sometimes employs. Throughout the two 50-minute sets, which featured mostly original material, the group never lost sight of either set of values.

Solid rock drums and bass pushed along melodeon and fiddle lines for a blend that--though building on the folk-rock of Fairport Convention and Richard Thompson--was strikingly original. Concurrently, a contemporary anti-Thatcher tone goosed sentiments generated by generations of English class division, with John Jones’ rich tenor carrying a convincingly defiant tone.


“This Year, Next Year, Sometime, Never,” a new song about the plight of Turkish migrants in Berlin, was a standout. And the presentation became more powerful as the evening progressed, capping with a furious encore of the traditional “Hal-an-Tow” that nearly blew the small crowd out the door.

The Oysters plan to return to the United States this summer after their new album, “Ride,” is released here. Maybe then more than the few dozen on hand Sunday will discover that this is a great rock band by the standards of any era.