“Tastes like a fucking cheeseburger,” Ocean Alley’s Baden Donegal tells his first Philadelphia audience about eating a Philly Cheesesteak for the first time earlier that day. And it was a night of firsts for us all. Consisting of vocalist Baden Donegal, guitarist Angus Goodwin, bassist Nic Blom, keyboardist Lach Galbraith, guitarist Mitch Galbraith and drummer Tom O’Brien, Australia’s Ocean Alley are more than halfway done with their first North American tour ever. And on June 20th, the six-piece band brought their smooth, infectious sound and laid-back, mellow energy to The Foundry. With support from Heavy Traffic and Big Mind, the six-piece band turned a gloomy, overcast Philadelphia day into a freeing summer night.
Kicking off the show with their reggae-rock sound, Big Mind gave the crowd just a taste of the fun that Ocean Alley would soon bring. And while Big Mind captured Ocean Alley’s earlier reggae/surf-rock blend, Heavy Traffic’s eerie, powerful riffs prepared everyone for the six-piece’s dominant guitar-driven, psychedelic sound.
But even though both openers played with intensity, something was missing in their sets. In the time leading up to Ocean Alley’s performance, there was a disconnect between the openers and the audience. And the barrier that bands typically break down during their shows remained until Ocean Alley took the stage. Only then did the crowd finally feel like an integral part of the experience.
Though The Foundry was not filled up by any means, Ocean Alley powered through their set as if they were playing in front of a packed stadium or festival. It’s as if their music is designed for live shows more so than studio albums. The full impact of their riffs and melodies mixed with Donegal’s vocals is best actualized in front of an audience — no matter the size.
Beginning with “Corduroy” and “The Comedown” off their new album Chiaroscuro, Ocean Alley started the night with two of their more spacey tunes. And as these songs flowed into each other seamlessly, the six-piece secured their foundation for a strong set. With the night opened up, Ocean Alley pulled out the old “Muddy Water” off their first EP In Purple to the crowd’s excitement.
The show really picked up with “Knees,” the song off Chiaroscuro that to me fully encapsulates that album in ways that many of the others don’t. That night, experiencing the buildup of “Knees” live, is proof of Ocean Alley’s talent and ability to effortlessly blend so many sounds and instruments into beautiful harmony. It was one of several moments of the night where everyone in the crowd knew the lyrics and passionately sang along with Donegal.
Despite some technical difficulties with the Galbraith brothers’ keyboard and guitar, Ocean Alley soared through their set without a hitch. Old fan favorites like “Yellow Mellow” and “Holiday” ignited the tiny crowd into a bit of a dancing frenzy. Singing and moving along to lyrics like, “Carry me home, ‘cause I’m on holiday / With you / I’m on holiday,” really made us feel as if we actually were on vacation — even if only for about an hour on a Wednesday night.
Finishing the first set with another crowd favorite off Chiaroscuro, Ocean Alley saved “Confidence” for the end. And although their entire set rightfully got the audience dancing and having a great time, it was almost unfair to end the night with a song that just begged for more. We all didn’t want the fun to stop.
And luckily it didn’t. The crowd immediately resisted with chants of “one more song” and “encore,” not willing to believe Ocean Alley was done for the night. As some band members headed to the bar, some fans naively headed to the merch table, unaware of the encore about to happen. Returning to the stage moments later to play the most appropriate encore song I’ve ever encountered — Player’s “Baby Come Back.”
To the enthusiasm of those at the merch table and those in the crowd, Ocean Alley had come back for one more song. They had performed “Baby Come Back” on Australia’s Triple J radio station about a month ago, and it was refreshing to hear such a dynamite cover, particularly one I had hoped to hear live weeks before the show. As in Ocean Alley fashion, the six-piece added their own touches to the classic and did a well-known song justice. Donegal even incorporated Calvin Harris’ “Slide,” which features Frank Ocean and Migos, to make the cover truly their own.
For my first Ocean Alley concert of what I hope will be many, the six-piece band delivered exactly what I thought they would — a great performance that highlighted their incredible strength as a live band. Whether the small crowd was because of the day of the week or a lack of a large fan base in Philadelphia at the moment, one thing is clear: if Ocean Alley continues to perform the way they did on June 20th at The Foundry, then they have a very promising future ahead of them in America and all over the world. And I can’t wait to see it happen.