Indie pop may not be the first thing that you think of when someone mentions Hershey, PA, but for long-running scenesters The Ocean Blue, the band’s hometown is an integral part to their identity. They formed there in the late 1980s while still in high school, and influenced by bands such as New Order, The Smiths, and Echo and the Bunnymen, went on to become one of the most important American purveyors of what was, at the time, a primarily British genre.
The band released their first three albums – 1989’s self-titled The Ocean Blue, 1991’s Cerulean, and 1993’s Beneath the Rhythm and Sound – on storied label Sire Records, and though the band has ceased to be a full-time project (the members moving on to other careers and to raising families) they have continued to remain active. Guitarist and keyboardist Oed Ronne replaced keyboardist Steve Lau in 1994, and drummer Peter Anderson replaced drummer Rob Minnig in 2001, but frontman David Schelzel and bassist Bobby Mittan have remained constant members. They released their sixth and most recent album, Ultramarine, on Korda Records in 2013, and last year put out a new version of their 2004 Waterworks EP expanded into a full album. For this year, however, they’ve taken a look back, with vinyl reissues of those first three Sire albums on Shelflife Records. In a brief five city mini-tour, including a sold out stop in the DC region at Jammin’ Java in Vienna, VA, the band played the first two albums in their entirety.
Album tours like this are a trade-off. While all element of surprise is lost when the band is playing a running order determined decades earlier that fans have known by heart for years, it is a chance to see them perform songs which may have dropped out of the setlist years ago. While songs such as “Between Something and Nothing,” “Drifting, Falling,” and “Vanity Fair” (from The Ocean Blue) and “Mercury,” “Marigold,” and “Ballerina Out of Control” (from Cerulean) have remained staples of the band’s live show for years, others such as “Frigid Winter Days,” “A Familiar Face,” “Falling Through the Ice,” and “Hurricane Amore” have rarely appeared. The band played two sets, performing Cerulean first, and then a brief intermission followed by The Ocean Blue. They then closed out the show with a three-song encore, consisting of “Sublime” from Beneath the Rhythm and Sound, a cover of The Psychedelic Furs’ “Love My Way,” and a previously unreleased song from 1994, “City Traffic.”
Amidst all of this looking backward for the reissues, the band are already looking forward at their next new album, which they plan to begin work on soon.