Opal Ocean was founded in Melbourne, Australia, back in 2013. The duo is composed of New Caledonian Alex Champ and New Zealander Nadav Tabak. The story of their formation as Opal Ocean originates on the city streets, both having been buskers in Australia and New Zealand and then, once formed, taking their original music back to the streets to perform to passersby. They are then, for the music industry, what graffiti is to art world, outside the establishment – and yet they are commercial.
Opal Ocean's experimental genre-crossing influences marks them out as fresh... their street performance history gives them experience in a different type of arena; one where music isn’t ticketed, where guests aren’t invited and set times variable. Sounds like it could be a tricky crowd.
The sound of Opal Ocean definitely has novelty value, but that does not lessen the obvious skill, talent and creativity. It is addictive listening.
In Galatos, Auckland last night, the duo were supported by Karz Gordox, who played a set of flamenco and blues tracks. It was playful stuff, particularly Latin Shred and the blues tracks were sharp and passionate.
Next up was Brazilian Ricky de Medeiros, who sat at the back of the stage to play tracks including Mambo and had the audience dancing.
Opal Ocean, walked onto the stage, in the 200-odd capacity Galatos, for their Auckland show during a New Zealand wide tour. They called it a homecoming gig. Fresh from a European tour, Champ said they had been working very hard and, much to the delight of the crowd, this was the time to give back. They opened with Sundance, it was clear that the duo were synchronised and that the music was full of drama. The set continued with Burnt Out, a song which meanders through rises and falls. I can sort of imagine it as a Don Quixote soundtrack. There is something quixotic to their sound too, full of all the exciting bits from different genres. I loved the use of the distortion in their tracks and the crowd did too.
What probably marks this band out for me is a spirit of experimentation, originality and unexpected influences, which they referred to throughout the performance.
Whether it is heavy metal or progressive tunes. They are seemingly free in their approach to pick and choose from their preferred styles and genres and then let loose with percussive elements and heavy-metal inspired rhythms to produce a seductive fast-paced sound.
Champ and Tabak describe their music as flamenco-inspired. Flamenco originated in folk with a more percussive guitar sound. But the duo are also inspired by some of the top gurus of heavy metal guru; Metallica being one, and the crowd were very well aware of this. Tabak teased with a few chords from a classic Metallica track to uproarious cheers. Certainly, in their presentation - long haired, dressed in black, there is a nod to their heroes and it goes beyond this.
With no lyrics, the instruments had to do all the work. There was so much energy in the playing and it was obvious that both gave everything to the performance. Even when Champ playfully collapsed on the floor after the epic Mexicana, which had raced to a high-energy finish, you could believe that every inch of energy was let loose on stage. Tabak commented that they’d been asked to use lyrics, but it was clear both artists were at full capacity. I can’t imagine what lyrics would add to the overall performance, and this is perhaps the influence of heavy metal and Flamenco coming through.
Sometimes, when you take graffiti indoors, it works... like Banksy and Opal Ocean worked for me. There’s certainly a need for a more sturdy performance, charisma and to soften the rough edges of their street performance arena. But what surprised me was the performers' connection with the crowd. Given, they said there was a lot of familiar faces in the crowd, friends and family... Nevertheless, the performance was full of smiles and both Champ and Tabak were personable and very happy to be on stage. It probably helps that they make something infinitely complex look fun. When the pair turned their hand to Fallen Prince, a track from their 2016 album Lost Fables, Champ told the audience this was not a track they played often. What unfolded on stage was a gentle dance of a song and it was beautiful with sad-tinged storytelling. It was a slow song that still had a stamp of Opal Ocean’s epic guitar riffs.
I wondered if there would be a cover, and there was. Tabak warmed the crowd up, asking for audience participation but not revealing the track they were about to perform. When the chords of System Of A Down’s Chop Suey played... I, along with a whole range of fans, prepared to sing along. It was awesome! It also placed the band in with their tribe - System of a Down got my attention because of their genre mixing and have themselves said they are not part of one genre but influenced by thrash metal and alternative metal acts. That’s all fine for me.
The duo might be difficult to categorise, but Opal Ocean play from a heritage of rock and metal with a playful edge, a surprising Latin-American influence, and with enough passion to engage even the busiest passerby.