Ocean Alley – Spark Arena, May 14, 2022 (Concert Review)

Ocean Alley performed at a sold-out Spark Arena last night, pacifying and uniting the audience with their distinctly psychedelic alt-rock sound and featuring solid support by surf-rock openers, Hockey Dad.

It’s a cardinal sin of journalism to start with an anecdote, but sin I will, albeit briefly. Forgive me.

A few years ago, as I was nervously slapping on the Ocean Alley press sticker, I entered one of my first live reviews and was filled with all the terrible ego-driven distractions that can ruin an experience before it’s even started, fuelled by a Negativity Cocktail of anxiety and worry and agitation.

And yet, four hours later, I left the gig feeling as though I had witnessed something extraordinary; ease, comfort and connectedness both within myself and the entire crowd, born and nurtured in that brief window of time by more than a handful of remarkable musicians.

It’s been more than three years since that first opportunity to witness Ocean Alley at Powerstation, where I was instantly seduced by their psychedelic, Pink Floyd-meets-Hendrix vibe, shortly before watching them effortlessly unify a crowd with their soul-resonating sound.

It seems fitting then that, with the world, our country, and everyone in it on a knife’s edge of anxiety and dread, my first gig back from a pandemic-induced review coma would be to cover these absolute legends again, leaving me eternally grateful that both their sound and ability to reach into the collective and individuals of a crowd have only improved, evolved, and refined itself to near perfection.

Leading the charge to clear-minded positivity were opening act, Hockey Dad, an Australian surf-rock duo consisting of drummer Billy Fleming and vocalist and guitarist Zach Stephenson, with support by touring bass player (and guest vocalist) Steve Bourke.

With Spark Arena at around a quarter of its capacity and the audience gingerly but eagerly trying to remember what they did at gigs once upon a time, the lights dimmed into a flurry of strobes and the unmistakable drums and bass of The Beastie BoysSabotage as the band took to the stage with vibrant energy and enthusiasm.

Across their 10-plus setlist, Hockey Dad delivered an almost non-stop combination of feel-good surf-rock, with glimpses of early Offspring, The Strokes, The Libertines, Oasis and a touch of The Sex Pistols thrown in across their time on stage.

I say glimpses and touches specifically, as Hockey Dad seem to have settled into a fitting sound for their performance energy and harmony, the downside being that after the seventh or eighth song the variations in each seem unsatisfactory to distinguish between the melted setlist as a whole.

But, while this would be a heavy critique of a headline band, it ticks all the boxes of a perfect opening act – high energy, high positivity, with a collection of short, enjoyable songs that spiritually slap around the audience to imbue them with the energy for the main act.

This 45-minute set also bridged the gap between the acts and made it unnecessary to leave the arena which, whether by accident or on purpose, felt extremely welcome to maintain the energy while observing the safety-conscious crowd and staff.

With the floor crowd now heavily packed together and all sense of anxiety drifting away into the air through plumes of weed smoke, Ocean Alley took to the stage and dove into Tombstone, Way Down, and Yellow Mellow. With their familiarly soothing funk-inspired riffs from Angus Goodwin, Nic Blom, and Mitch Galbraith supercharging the already powerful and sustained lyrics from vocalist and guitarist, Baden Donegal.

Following on with new-favourites Infinity and Lonely Diamond, it was also delightful to see that a change in setlist from previous gigs meant zero change in the resultant atmosphere and energy within the crowd. The Comedown followed shortly after, featuring another of the set’s beautifully simplistic light displays, before satisfying my highest hopes with a Breathe (In the Air) / Comfortably Numb / Money Pink Floyd cover that set the tone for the second half of the set.

While drummer Tom O’Brien provided the rhythmic glue to burn through Stained Glass, Overgrown, and their newly released single, Touch Back Down, Donegal voiced the group’s admiration and appreciation for both New Zealand and their fans in attendance in what felt like a truly genuine, non-performance; it’s clear that the band’s authenticity doesn’t extend only to their music but to themselves as individuals, and audiences seem lucky enough to absorb this throughout their sets to attain that feeling of positive crowd unity.

Hot Chicken and Rage followed, before classic Ocean Alley tune, Partner in Crime saw the audience finally reach that peak of the live-music experience, where it seemed everyone had drifted away from both the fantasies and realities of the outside world to just be present for the moment, together.

Confidence and Happy Sad highlighted keyboardist and vocalist Lach Galbraith amidst the lovesick lyrics and beach-heartbreak sound to close out the main set, before the group returned to deliver another heartfelt praise to the crowd along with an encore of Baby Come Back and Knees, before disembarking the stage with the same precision as the somehow-remarkably-organised crowd left Spark Arena.

As I left the stadium along with the humming crowd, I was reminded of that first gig, the deja vu of the experience, and the magic that Ocean Alley brings to the world and their audiences with the music they create; music that transcends our fears and anxieties, music created in an unforgiving and uncaring world for people who choose to forgive and care despite this.

It’s music made from and for the soul, and I’ll be damned if we all couldn’t do with just a little bit more of that in our lives right now and in the future.

Oxford Lamoureaux

Click on any image to view photo galleries by Rachel Webb:

Ocean Alley

Hockey Dad

Ocean Alley will perform three more shows as part of their 2022 New Zealand Tour, with limited ticket sales still available:

Michael Fowler Centre, Wellington – May 15

Town Hall, Dunedin – May 18

Town Hall, Christchurch – May 19


Ocean Alley Setlist – Spark Arena, May 14, 2022


Way Down

Yellow Mellow


Lonely Diamond

The Comedown

Breathe (In the Air) / Comfortably Numb / Money (Pink Floyd cover)

Stained Glass


Touch Back Down

Hot Chicken


Partner in Crime


Happy Sad


Baby Come Back (Player cover)