Friday 30th August 2019
Earth, Hackney, London
Most references to the Ocean Alley crew describe them as playing Surfer Rock. If that’s the case the sharks must be circling excitedly in their part of Australia because, if their laid back music is anything to go by, they probably surf along at a medium pace barely keeping up with the waves, casually waving to a passing turtle en-route to a smoke and a cold one on the beach. What’s for sure is that, if the audience reaction on this steamy evening in Hackney was anything to go by, while they have more in common with Bob Marley than Dick Dale, they are definitely surfing along the crest of a wave of dedicated support, this being their second sold out London show within a week.
On their recordings, Ocean Alley present a wide dreamy sonic soundscape that it very appealing, with lots of interesting nuances. In the confines of Earth the sound engineers did their level best to create the aural equivalent of the mosh pit – the physical representation of which, incidentally, covered 90% of the available floor space in this crammed sweaty venue, rammed full of students who treated every song as if it was ‘Mr Brightside’. The sound was heavy on the bass and drums with, aside from occasional spacey guitar, only the heavily reverbed vocals of charismatic frontman Baden Donegal floating high above the backing like a seagull looking down on the surfer dudes slowly moving across the ocean.
This was a shame, as while undoubtedly powerful, the muddy sound meant a lot of their skilful arrangements were lost. It was only on third number ‘Yellow Mellow’ with its languid intro leading into a jaunty Reggae groove that some individual instrumentation could be heard. The recorded version of ‘Infinity’, the track that followed is all soaring, melodic interwoven guitar lines, underpinning an equally melodic vocal with a strong chorus; a fabulous track. The live sound on the evening lost a lot of the elegant flow of the recording. Which was a great shame. The same applied to ‘Stained Glass’, another superb, melodic spacey track that was given a vaguely brutal live mix.
The heavy mix was accompanied by the sort of lighting that makes photographers become bitter and twisted (apologies for the quality of accompanying pictures, they were not intended to be a tribute to The Shadows), which apart from being massively irritating had the effect of casting the majority of the band literally in the shade. Matters were not helped by the over-enthusiastic use of the smoke machine throughout, which didn’t really match the sunny feel of the band’s music.
Despite all this I should say that they were a lot of fun and created an electric atmosphere that the youthful audience responded to by going mental throughout, with collective arms in the air and singing along pretty much from the first number. The evening felt like one of those special occasions that people talk about years later “I saw Ocean Alley before they become huge at this place in Hackney” etc.
It seemed that the sound balance only really achieved the right mix in time for the two encores, ‘Baby Come Back’ and ‘Knees’ both of which are absolute belters, modern classics if you will, with huge anthemic appeal, that rounded off a powerful and commanding performance, the audience loving every moment. The latter of these numbers has a repeated line “where do we go from here?” On the evidence of this evening, a very long way indeed; just leave the surf boards behind chaps (and feed the sound engineer and lighting man to the sharks).