Ocean Colour Scene – Powerstation November 20, 2017

Twenty-one years after their breakthrough album, Moseley Shoals, Ocean Colour Scene were set to play on Auckland’s Powerstation stage to a veritable ocean of expatriates. I felt I needed a passport to get into this gig, and having never been to England, after tonight I don’t think I need to: England came to me.

The drinking was effusive and the crowd showed their appreciation for opening act Stillia by mostly standing by the bar and moistening themselves for the Ocean. This young four-piece from St. Helens didn’t seem to take the empty space before the stage too hard though, pumping out a set of melodic, inoffensive pop-rock, of the sort one’s mother might like, no doubt. This music wore painted on jeans and silk shirts, periwinkle boots and mod haircuts, but it was all a little forced, like a cheap Halloween costume popping at the seams before its even halfway out the bag. But maybe I’m not English enough to appreciate songs that seem designed to be belted out in football stadiums, or in pubs with the pint glasses swaying and spraying.

As soon as the singer, Jack Bennett, mentioned the need to take a photo for his mum, and could the audience please oblige him and move closer to the stage, said audience filled the gaping hole on the dance floor. Once there, boy did they like what Stillia was laying down – anthemic, faux-sixties slow-builds, propelled by every beat the Stone Roses already wrote.

The crowd was rapidly getting three sheets to the wind now: hell, this was becoming a laundromat in a hurricane. A packed house of pissed up Poms were amping for their heroes to come charging out the gate. Maybe some just wanted to see what their favourite band from 1996 look like now, and hear the one album they were touring, the one album people really cared about: Moseley Shoals knocked Oasis of the number one spot after all, and that at least deserves to be remembered (if you’re in the band). A handful of punters I talked to had come to last night’s gig purely out of curiosity, expressing wonder at the fact that these four West-Midlanders were still alive, let alone still playing, and saw it as a chance to get a taste of Ol’ Blighty before preparing for a Christmas on the beach.

Ocean Colour Scene opened, as they and we knew they must, with The Riverboat Song, a scintillating, syncopated riff over ¾ drums that anyone who listened to music in 1996 must surely struggle to forget. This crowd hadn’t, and boy did they let OCS know it. Steve Craddock has amassed an impressive battery of pedals over the years, and his recent work with Paul Weller, The Specials, and The Beat has kept his fretting fingers nimble, and his ideas fresh. Special mention here to Oscar Harrison on drums too. On this opener, and on several tracks throughout the gig, especially You’ve Got It Bad, Harrison is doing most of the heavy lifting (on the latter, to carry an average arrangement), nailing the beat right down and giving the others the slack to play around a bit. I’m a fool for a fill, and he obliges as often as he can.

OCS have been accused of playing the Beatles card, and if you’d only ever heard the gig closer The Day I Caught The Train, their other big hit from Moseley Shoals, you could be forgiven for thinking that. However, and certainly after last night’s performance, it seems a little unfair. Where someone like Liam Gallagher’s voice never left home, Simon Fowler’s vocal style regularly crosses back and forth across the Atlantic.  The Downstream could be Lynyrd Skynyrd, (really, it sounds like the verse melody to Freebird. I can’t be the only one…).

This is not an admonition: I like it. Traveller’s Tune from 1997’s Marching Already could have been written by The E Street Band. And rather than making the easy-lean on Lennon or McArtney, as so many 90’s Brit-pop artists seemed to want to do, (though Fowler and the rest of the Scene does channel Macca a little on Its My Shadow), the band sound more at ease referencing the music of the studio their sophomore album puns. Joe Cocker gets a nod, and who wouldn’t fancy themselves a stab at God’s gift to gas fitters when your penchant is for emotive, big crowd sing-a-longs? Ocean Colour Scene are a better band when they cross the Atlantic anyway: the emotions sound more honest; it feels like people are finally swaying because of the music, and not the booze.

This emotional connection to the audience suffered a swift kick to the joolies after a soaring rendition of the ersatz-Dylan strum-along Profit and Peace near the end. Fowler remains in such fine voice after 30 years in part, I suspect, because the audience sings almost every word to every song at, one supposes, every gig. It is a remarkable thing to witness, and on this track they were really belting it out. The band faded out, the crowd continued, and you thought, you expected, that they would maybe start to flow back into the refrain. Maybe strum along, you know, build the momentum back in and end the song on a high, together with the crowd. But no. Fowler killed the audience with a jarring key change into So Low, from 1999’s One For The Modern. End of song, guys. We’re the band. Ouch.

All in all, this was an impressive performance from a band that clearly still loves to do what it does, a band that recognises that the material they wrote 21 years ago, and focuses almost exclusively on tonight, is the stuff of gold for their devoted audience. There was rapture, some rupture (average age was perhaps 48), and a whole lot of bro-hugs, and raised-glass sing-shouting throughout the two hour set. It was a bloody blast for all concerned, and who knows? In another 21 years, when they could legitimately be compared to the Rolling Stones, if only for their age, they’ll come back again. Maybe we could finish that rendition of Profit and Peace then.

Thom Ruttan

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