Every so often, as a music reviewer, I take one for the team, reviewing a show that is not really in my wheelhouse. This is me being an honest yogi: I don’t know anything about reggae music. I usually try to listen to the artist a bit before the show, but I really wasn’t into it, so I decided to do some internet sleuthing instead. Now that I know what a Wikipedian does, I was pretty excited to check out Ocean Alley’s Wikipedia page, instead of just googling them. This way, I could find some good sources to quote.
Here’s some useful information I came across in my research, from a Happy Mag interview; regarding their first album, bassist Nic Blom says, “[W]e played with some pretty surf-rocky stuff then straight into some pretty heavy fuzz rock.” So that makes it perfectly clear what I’m listening to, right? (This, all moments before I sighed with despair and headed for the venue with My Favourite Murder in my earbuds.)
I arrive to a very warm welcome from some of the best (and nicest) security in the city, Mitchell and Yusuf. The Corona Theatre immediately feels like the right place to be tonight. I’ve arrived in time to catch Ruby Waters on stage. She’s a singer-songwriter from Toronto with strong vocals, and she reminds me a little of Alessia Cara.
High school jocks turned frat dudes turned travel junkies (you know the route) are here in droves, and I’m suddenly very afraid to run into someone I know. To be honest, I’m pretty high (seems like a prerequisite for a reggae show) and I’m not down for an awkward conversation with one of my exes. I head upstairs to check out the balcony, and as I’d hoped, it’s open and pretty bare. I get an aisle seat in the second row and settle in.
Ocean Alley come out to Thin Lizzy’s “Boys Are Back in Town” and take their places with beers in hand. Their first song is definitely mellow, and beachy, with lots of echo, but eventually, it builds. “I’m so faded/I’m so wasted” is the refrain, so it eventually becomes clear that I’m listening to “The Comedown.” Later, I’ll watch the video that goes along with it and feel deeply depressed. Their second song is happier, I think, until I go home and look up the lyrics. (It was “Knees”).
Unfortunately, from my amazing and now quite comfy seat, the lights onstage are blinding me, but this is sitting music, in my opinion, in spite of the happy crowd below me, swaying and singing along. As such, I simply put on my sunglasses. I can see the photographers really going for it, from my position above, which is also pretty cool.
Eventually, they play “Mellow Yellow,” a more upbeat, psychedelic reggae tune, and I head downstairs to check out the vibe there. It is still wall-to-wall dudes and I’m even more sure I’ve dated a couple of these guys. I immediately escape back to my sanctuary on the balcony. These songs feel like they’re out of another era, and like I should be on something stronger than a sattiva… As I said, I’m definitely not an expert on this scene (other than the tangential relation of having dated half the audience).
Eventually, they play “Confidence,” the one song I genuinely like, other than their well-known cover of Player’s “Baby Come Back.” Mostly, I’m just frustrated that I can’t pin this band down, which I suppose supports how the band sees their influences and their process. They describe it, in the Happy Mag interview, as a feeling of confidence, and trusting your friends. One person comes in with an idea but then each member rolls with it in terms of their instrumentality, and contributes creatively. They love reggae, but they aren’t restricted by it – they know they’re pulling from everywhere. So how did they get such a strong and devoted fan base? In vocalist and guitarist Baden Donegal’s words, “We’ve been doing this for a while so we’ve given everyone plenty of time to get to know us by playing every party and every pub possible. So I guess, people are forced … And now everyone’s on board.” Hmm. Sounds like that person who just keeps on after you until you give in and go on a date with them.
Joking aside, reading that makes me realize why I feel like I should be listening to this band at Brutopia. It’s not an insult – I’m starting to understand why they’re beloved, and there’s no denying their musical multiplicity. The music feels familiar. Even if it’s not making it onto my on-repeat-playlist, it’s chill, and if I was wasted (stoned… faded?) on a beach, far, far away from Montreal, I’d like to hear Ocean Alley play live again.
Review – Carrie-Ann Kloda
Photos – Ramy Elhoufy