Review: Ocean Alley

23 May 2018

Upon arriving at the recently reinvigorated yet never-changing Forum Theatre on Flinders St, the crowd was rather sparse; which allowed me to hot-step over to the salubrious bar for a schooner of the amber liquid in preparation for the opening set.

The Jim Mitchells (bearing the first name of lead-singer, Jim Mitchell) hailing from Sydney, delivered a garage-rock sonic quality with vocal harmonies that reminded me of The Beach Boys. Their distinct style of oceanic-influenced rock immediately transported me out of my surrounds and down a coastline road, with the coastal breeze hair swirling through my hair … while Jim Mitchell’s voice and aesthetic, led me to draw comparisons to none other than the late Kurt Cobain. Their guitar-heavy melodies had me entrancingly bopping along, aptly setting the scene for a night full of groove-filled melodies.

Wellington-origin neo-dub, reggae six-piece ensemble Tunes of I grasped the thematic narrative and ran with it, diving head-first into their captivating set. Their enthusiasm as a group was palpable, oft-sharing smiles between band members throughout. As the lead singer Conway Jeune proclaimed, their song ‘Steamed’ drew lyrical inspiration from the hedonistic parties of their student youths where “we’d get absolutely wasted”. Jeune had a captivating stage presence, sharing similar vocal qualities to that of Alex Turner. Their song ‘Wicked Ways’ from last year’s EP of the same name, ascended into the choruses and fell-away in tempo with the flick of a proverbial switch, descending into dream-like instrumental melodies. Their rollercoaster ride of a set, pre-empting the enthralling contrasts to come.

If Tunes of I hadn’t achieved peak crowd-engagement, The Eagles’ ‘Eagle Rock’ played immediately before Ocean Alley’s set, certainly would. The Sydneysider reggae rockers Ocean Alley smoothly transitioned into their first song ‘Corduroy’, also being the first track on their second studio album Chiaroscuro; aptly describing the contrasting emotions that Baden Donegal’s lyrics evoke. ‘Corduroy’ almost foreshadowing the next song within its lyrics, Donegal singing “soon we gotta come down” then segueing into ‘The Comedown, a relatable tale of a hangover the morning-after to some of the potentially inebriated crowd, yelling “I’m so faded” in line with Donegal’s lyrics. Contrasting with the next song ‘Hold On’, speaking of love’s grasp and its redeeming qualities.

Many of Ocean Alley’s songs have a similar rhythmic quality that would evoke a sway out of even the least rhythmically-inclined.

‘Knees’, while delivering sonic quality that would be nigh-on impossible to evoke sadness, speaks of the begging that can arise in relationship breakdowns, hoping that love lost will return. Donegal commands the crowd’s attention with his mesmeric stage presence and mellifluous voice, aiding transitions between their slow-tempo verses and high-energy choruses.

‘She’s Always Right’ refers to a feeling of hopelessness in times of argument while ‘Feel’ preaches the happy-go-lucky attitude, stressing “you can only feel as good as you wanna feel”. ‘Yellow Mellow’ has an infectious psychedelic-reggae overtone, with the crowd stepping in to sing “she put too much sugar on her cereal, just to get her out of bed.”

‘Partner In Crime’ slows the tempo yet again with a forlorn tale featuring Tunes of I’s saxophonist, coming on stage to play the song’s emphatic solo. ‘Holiday’ has a distinct summer, beachy vibe, Donegal effortlessly singing “I’m on a holiday, witchu” with an upward vocal scoop that makes the chorus while the rock anthem ‘Overgrown’ has guitars duelling at ten paces.

The band heads backstage (for presumably another pale ale) while Donegal harnesses the adoring crowd in his solo rendition of ‘Man You Were Looking For’. Donegal evidently relishes the spotlight and it seemingly comes authentically; even while taking the back-seat on a guitar solo that would make Carlos Santana proud on ‘Rage’. ‘Lemonworld’ continues the theme of introspection, Donegal singing “what have I become?” before the band (and excitable crowd) leapt into their smash-hit ‘Confidence’. The entire audience recites the words “It’s all about confidence baby” in response to the warbling guitars and gave the band a deserved rapturous applause, with the song’s ending.

‘Confidence’ acted as the final funk-filled act in a lengthy set, but wait… there’s more?

They came firing back into the encore with a cover of Player’s classic song ‘Baby Come Back’ before ending their set (for real, this time!) with their microcosmic reflection of Chiaroscuro ‘Happy Sad’, ending with a literal pyrotechnic bang.

There was no Chiaroscuro-style contrast regarding their sincere performance; Ocean Alley “could have been good” but damn, were they great.

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