Fan-favorite Australian rock band Ocean Alley took the stage at Cornerstone Craft Beer & Live Music only one week out from the release of its fourth album — the psychedelic-meets-surfer Low Altitude Living.
An excited crowd gathered at the bar/venue hybrid to try to distinguish between the band’s six members: lead singer and guitarist Baden Donegal, lead guitarist Angus Goodwin, keyboardist Lachlan Galbraith, guitarist Mitch Galbraith, bassist Nic Blom and drummer Tom O’ Brien. Among the flock, the audience found six heads of long blond hair, five mustaches, three pairs of Converse and two Telecasters. Good luck tagging those Instagram photos!
Before Ocean Alley could take the stage, the alt-rock reheated punk band Le Shiv found a way to animate the scattered crowd. The three-piece band from Sydney launched into its nine-song set with a bit too much distortion. Identified only as vocalist Pencil, guitarist Moss and bassist Jarleth, the group was at its best during its grittier renditions of “Something I Said” and “I’m Fine, I’ve Said Too Much, but How Are You?” The group’s performance of the track “When the Kids Grow Up” found particular ground with the growing crowd. With a Ramones-esque presence, Pencil’s ambiguously accented vocals led the crowd through repeated renditions of the lyrics “I don’t wanna be around when the kids grow up!”
Yet for each headbang, as Pencil strung his shiny red Gretsch high across his chest, the guitar immobilized his upper body to such a degree that he appeared like a plastic Mick Jagger bobblehead. “We’re that band,” Pencil said halfway through the set, gesturing to The Who-esque logo projected on the back wall, which burst into animated flames about as often and as casually as the band’s members sipped from their beer cans.
After Le Shiv’s set, fans crowded the merch stand to buy black-and-white apparel of varying pre-fadedness. Abruptly, a salty breeze swept through the room. Ocean Alley emerged to the soundtrack of AC/DC’s “Jailbreak”: Smooth, neon-laced vocals poured from Donegal’s lips, and the tipsy crowd began a shockingly on-tempo head bop that would see the rest of the set through. As the band slid into “Tombstone,” “Way Down” and its older track “Yellow Mellow,” it became obvious that the group could do this all night. Despite his clear confidence, Donegal’s presence was grounded and strangely egoless — the logical conclusion of sheer talent. His echoey vocals filled every inch of the room, sending out spirals of psychedelia that turned each plastic cup of beer into a whirlpool.
Goodwin’s guitar solos remained another major standout of the evening. One could imagine his playing on “Infinity” and “The Comedown” as alternate endings to Eddie Hazel’s “Maggot Brain” trip. Further into the evening, as Donegal switched to an acoustic 12-string, the crowd began to whisper about a possible Pink Floyd cover. Thus began a dreamy, transcendental mashup of “Breathe,” “Comfortably Numb” and “Money.” Blending coppery fingerstyle and stomping bass lines, this cover solidified Ocean Alley within the prog-rock genre.
With minimal stage decor and an approachable vibe, Ocean Alley felt like the hometown band that finally makes it big. By its 12th song, it was difficult to see over lines of six-foot men wrapped around each other, swaying under Donegal’s microphone as if he were conducting them in an orchestra. The audience politely demanded an encore, and the band members bashfully returned to the stage, downed their beers and played the aptly titled “Baby Come Back” and reggae-inspired “Daydreaming.”
“This feels like home,” said Aussie Harry Cox as the lights came back on. It was all pure love, brotherly embraces and an easy confidence. Hardly anyone left unhappy, and even fewer left sober. More than 7,000 miles from Sydney, Ocean Alley still managed to hang loose.