Pennsylvania dreampoppers The Ocean Blue opened their recent DC show at the Howard Theatre with the wistfully nostalgic “Denmark,” a beautifully soothing tune that calms the spirit and delivers feeling.
The song and others from the band’s 1999 album Davy Jones’ Locker served as the focus of the show in the wake of a remastering and fresh release for the album. A fan-favorite delight that continued the atmospheric sounds of the ’80s well into the next decade, The Ocean Blue were smart to revisit these sentimental tunes
About two-thirds of the way through the set on Sept. 8, The Ocean Blue performed the jangly “Ayn” from Davy Jones Locker, imparting its questioning of the accuracy of our memories and the workings of our relationships. The band gave “Ayn” a special remastering release a week after the show, and they really captured its bright guitars and plucky keys in the live performance at the Howard Theatre.
Stream “Ayn” by The Ocean Blue on YouTube:
Wondrously ageless, The Ocean Blue frontman David Schelzel infused these songs with their emotive power, dancing along to them on guitar and singing with the power of experience and wisdom. His voice has deepened since The Ocean Blue first debuted with their self-titled album in 1989, but he hit all of the right notes at the Howard Theatre, sounding terrific.
Speaking of that debut album, The Ocean Blue gave it a bit of love as well, selecting four songs from it for their 22-song setlist. In the middle of the set, they performed the always welcome “Drifting, Falling” and they closed the main set with “Between Something and Nothing.” “Drifting, Falling” in particular had a wonderfully dreamy and very catchy rhythm to it thanks in no small part to bassist Bobby Mittan, the only other original member of the band still performing with David. (To be fair, drummer Peter Anderson and guitarist Oed Donne have both been there a really long time now, and they too are great.) The sight of workman Bobby laying down those tunes, however, is always a joy, and Echo and The Bunnymen, to whom The Ocean Blue are often compared, should be jealous of this number.
As we in DC know, The Ocean Blue really made a comeback with the 2013 release of Ultramarine, and being that they don’t live very far away from us, we have the pleasure of seeing them tour along the east coast for subsequent album releases. The Ocean Blue reminded us of their musical staying power with five selections from Kings and Queens/Knaves and Thieves from their most recent original album (2019). Songs like “All the Way Blue” (played early in the set) and “Love Doesn’t Make It Easy on Us” (played a little later) have become instant classics in The Ocean Blue setlist in part because they demonstrate the band’s ongoing creative power and in part because they so wholly recall their transportive signature sound.
The Ocean Blue ended the show with a very memorable encore — performing first “Harlequin,” an unreleased song from the Davy Jones era, and covering “Pale Shelter” by Tears for Fears. It was a closing that indeed took the audience back to a certain place and time.
Let’s hope that we see The Ocean Blue locally again soon!
Here are some photos of The Ocean Blue performing at the Howard Theatre on Sept. 8, 2023. All pictures copyright and courtesy of Nalinee Darmrong.