In a very well-received show at Union Stage recently, The Ocean Blue, the dreampop quartet originating from Hershey, Pennsylvania, favored their sophomore album Cerulean, choosing to showcase five of its songs.
In introducing one of those songs — “When Life Was Easy” — frontman David Schelzel reflected on how some songs take on a new meaning for the writers as they get older.
Surely, in the 30 years since the release of Cerulean, David and company could truly reflect on a time when “My heart did soar for what/ the future stored and life,/ it pleased me.” But for many in the very full house on Sept. 5 in DC, time seemed like it had hardly passed at all as David and band co-founder and bassist Bobby Mittan wistfully yet confidently explored 20 lovelorn and enduring tunes.
Very early in the concert, David closed his eyes and strummed his guitar in presenting fan-favorite “Ballerina Out of Control,” also from Cerulean, and the band immediately held the rapt attention of the audience, leaving some 300 people or so to collectively catch their breath and immerse themselves in poignant lyrics and lush melodies.
David’s firm yet gentle voice as ever was inviting, and his timbre remains reminiscent of New Order’s Bernard Sumner, although David is a far better singer technically. The clear lead vocal is one of several characteristics of The Ocean Blue that always lead me to the shorthand description of the quartet as New Order’s downtempo disco meet the dreamy aching psych of The Psychedelic Furs. For ’80s music fans, it’s not a bad way to think of the band if you don’t know them already.
Watch the official music video for “Ballerina Out of Control” by The Ocean Blue on YouTube:
The Ocean Blue have distinguished themselves beyond my facile comparisons to their ’80s predecessors by the release of several very sharp and appealing new albums in the past several years, from 2013’s Ultramarine to 2019’s Kings and Queens / Knaves and Thieves. These newer songs proved again to be the payoff for true admirers of The Ocean Blue, as they are every bit as buoyant and absorbing as the band’s original four-album run from 1989-1999.
With Kings and Queens’ “Paraguay My Love,” The Ocean Blue got the audience dancing with jaunty refrains, and with “Love Doesn’t Make It Easy on Us,” the band folded us into its signature relaxed meditations on heartache. For both of the songs, David was backed by a winsome vocalist named Anna, who asked the audience to recall the first time they saw The Ocean Blue at the old 9:30 Club in the days of yore. The happy faces in the crowd suggested quite a few of those original fans were indeed present at Union Stage.
Throughout the show, bassist Bobby stood to the left of David, and the audience was as heartened to hear his basslines as they were to listen to David’s voice. In fact, scattered applause greeted Bobby when he walked out to stage first, setting the tone for the show with the opening notes of “All the Way Blue” from the latest album. Drummer Peter Anderson also was a welcome sight to those assembled, but Oed Ronne, usually on guitar and keyboards, was absent that night. A musician named Dylan capably and seamlessly filled in for Oed.
And so The Ocean Blue remain a remarkably irresistible and lasting musical experience with a powerful set of tunes full of hooks that grab your your attention and melodies that whisk you away. As a listener of modern or legacy dreampop or new wave, you couldn’t ask for a finer evening of consistently thoughtful music. Young or old, you’ll find the songs as meaningful as ever.
The Ocean Blue hit the road again later this month. Check out their touring schedule and catch them live!
Here are some pictures of The Ocean Blue performing at Union State on Sept. 5, 2021.