Review by Kate Poe


Ocean Alley washed over downtown Boston with sunshiney, reverb-soaked surf rock on Sunday night, bringing Aussie indie rock to the East Coast. 


Ocean Alley is an alt-surf-psych rock band from Australia known best for their dreamy, groovy sound. The band has been popular in their home country since their debut studio album, “Lost Tropics,” in 2016, but they are mainly well known for “Confidence,” a single off of 2018’s “Chiaroscuro.” A sped-up clip of the song became viral on TikTok within the last year, five years after the initial release, and it officially catapulted the band into the mainstream American music scene. The show Sunday night was sold out, according to an Instagram story made by the band, but certainly for more than just the viral hit. 


The Grogans, a garage rock band from Melbourne, set the tone for the night with their punchy, raw sound and impressive breadth. Quin Grunden heads the vocals with his guitar, Jordan Lewis plays the drums, and Angus Vasic plays the guitar. 


The Grogans offered a refreshing spin on an incredibly classic vibe. Their sound relied heavily on thick guitar riffs and pleasantly unrefined vocals but seamlessly dipped into a smoother, more surfy sound from song to song. They opened with “I Need You” as an energetic and alternative introduction before shifting to a few more mellow jams. They performed “No Thanks (I’m Going Surfing),” which created a silly juxtaposition to audience members entering the show from the rainy streets of Boston. “Waste My Time” and “Black” were playful, soft, and kind, a completely new vibe from the heavier rock delivered just moments before. 


The Grogans were an excellent opener to the main act. The audience was lively and responsive throughout the set. Many of their songs featured tempo shifts and pauses that kept everyone on their toes. At one point, the drummer stopped, sipping water before the song continued. Someone shouted, “The Grogans!” and Grunden answered, “Yessir!” The performance warmed up the crowd well, and everyone buzzed, shuffled, and milled about the floor after the Grogans signed off at around 8:30 p.m. 


It became evident that experiencing Ocean Alley live differs from listening through headphones. Illuminated by eight gold lights and washed in blue, the band started with “Touch Back Down.” Ocean Alley consists of Baden Donegal on vocals and guitar, Angus Goodwin on lead guitar, Mitch Galbraith on guitar, Lach Galbraith on keyboard, Nic Blom on bass, and Tom O’Brien on drums. The Royale’s intimacy lent itself to the oozing, far-out sound. The venue was suddenly underwater. The music was palpably fluid and encompassing, washing over the room like a wave. People stretched their hands to feel the reverb and swayed along to the expressive guitar solos while others pushed “rock on” hand signals into the air.


That’s the thing about Ocean Alley—you don’t know whether to sway or bang your head, glancing between the layers of electric guitar and drums and dreamy vocals. You’re fully and pleasantly immersed in the reverb, even if you don’t know the lyrics. The sound hits a unique niche between reggae, psychedelic, surf, and indie rock, settling somewhere profoundly aquatic. 


Ocean Alley drifted into “Tombstone,” which lead singer Baden Donegal theatrically delivered by cutting the lights and extending the mic to the audience for the final chorus. Next was “Knees,” an emotional and confounding cry for help. Donegal’s voice is iconically raw and groovy, efficiently delivering powerful lines and extended cries. He maintains a captivating presence by traveling around the stage, stepping onto platforms, and interacting with the audience while the band sticks to their assigned seats. Swirling psychedelic visuals and contrasting colored lights move to the rhythm, complimenting it perfectly. 


At one point, Donegal shouts out the Boston Celtics, and the room erupts in a vibrant, ear-splitting cheer for the recent NBA champions. He later commented that this might be the loudest crowd of the tour so far, which did not read like a platitude to anyone without earplugs. 


The band cruised through their discography at a solid pace, balancing between Spotify’s top five tracks and lesser-known hits. There was a baseline level of excellence throughout the night, but some songs landed better than others. The connection between the band and the audience was palpable on songs “The Comedown” and “Yellow Mellow,” but it was easy to tell which songs were a bit less exciting to perform. 


When Ocean Alley began playing “Confidence,” phones popped up to record the song, which has over 195 million listens on Spotify alone. Everyone knew the lyrics and the collective chorus of the crowd layered softly beneath the band’s reverb. In the last chorus, Donegal stuck the mic out for the lines “And I should’ve said this / and I should’ve said that” and smiled at the fervent delivery. 


The band wrapped up with “Happy Sad,” which started slow but gradually built up to a poignant bellow before exiting the stage. After a deafening few moments, Ocean Alley returned to perform the encore. At this point in the night, the venue was balmy; there was barely a breeze at the back of the room and certainly not one on stage. Donegal draped a towel over his head for most of the encore, even starting “Partner in Crime” while seated on a riser. Despite the heat, he performed “Baby Come Back” as the final song. Ocean Alley initially performed the cover for Australian radio station triple j’s live music segment “Like a Version.” It was a hit; the audience knew every word, and Ocean Alley’s groovy take on the 70’s classic with a sneaky insert of Frank Ocean’s “Slide” topped off the high-energy atmosphere of the night. 


Ocean Alley’s soulful performance of laid-back grooves and reverb-y voices created a new way to experience their music. Fans or anyone looking for a night of groovy psych rock should catch a show on this side of the globe before Ocean Alley heads back down under.