Live Music + Gig Reviews

Ocean Colour Scene @ Shepherd’s Bush Empire, London

10 September 2004

There can be few bands that suffer as wide a divergence of public opinion as Ocean Colour Scene. You either love ’em or hate ’em; very few walk the middle ground. For some, including Paul Weller, Noel Gallagher and the crowd that packed out the Shepherd’s Bush Empire, they have embodied the true spirit of British rock ‘n’ roll. For others they are a Jam-aping, outdated, dad-rock outfit. I tried to approach this gig with an open mind.

Kicking off the set, Simon Fowler sat in the spotlight on his own, acoustic guitar in hand, strumming the chords of Robin Hood. The crowd closed in and sang along. The Empire, an immediately cosy venue, really lent itself to the intimate feel of the opener. The rest of the band joined Fowler for the impossibly whiney Better Day and several more acoustic based songs including Mariner’s Way and two new songs.

The Scene’s new studio album will be out in February, and on the strength of tonight I strongly recommend you spend your money elsewhere. Anywhere else, in fact. The syrupy, repetitive I Love You was almost too much to bear. Honestly, David Brent could better it… easily.

Just as I was falling asleep and beginning to stir with boredom, some bright spark whipped out an electric guitar and Steve Cradock picked the distinctive riff to The Riverboat Song. You still nervously expect to see Chris Evans appear from somewhere, but it’s still a hell of a good tune as well. This, and OCS’ other big hits: The Day We Caught The Train and the thunderous closer, Mile High City were the highlights of a set for which the term “mediocre” would be a massive compliment.

It all sounded the same for one thing – Fowler’s voice rarely showed innovation or passion and was often buried beneath the cornucopia of instruments that made an appearance. Three people on guitars (at once!), bass, banjo, violin, piano, drums, tambourine, maracas – an extreme case of too many cooks methinks. Circle, Profit In Peace, You’ve Got It Bad, So Low, blah, blah, blah. I tried not to yawn. I failed.

Steve Cradock did offer some respite from the drudgery. He is often derided as being arrogant, but in truth he has every right to be: His solos were impressive in speed and invention even if they did begin to seem a little indulgent an hour into the set. Unfortunately, Fowler was uninterested in entertaining the crowd; attempts at showmanship and engaging the audience looked like tiresome chores for him. For all this the crowd danced and sang along with smiles on their faces all night long. I cannot begin to understand why.

As a result of this tour and their forthcoming releases, many will continue to proclaim that Ocean Colour Scene are still a vital and productive group of musicians. To me, on the basis of tonight, it looks like they are squeezing all the life out of a tired, stale, old band that really should have chucked it all in years ago.

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