Out of the Blue
Oxford Playhouse 23rd June, 2003
An auditorium buzzing with excitement and anticipation was a significant clue to the audience's confidence that an evening of unrivalled entertainment was about to unfold. It turned out not to be misplaced.
Self-styled 'Oxford's Most Wanted', Out of the Blue arrived onstage in sharp suits and Stetsons to deliver a stunning take on Michael Jackson's Smooth Criminal video. Mobile, with mikes in hand and basking in brooding lighting, this 13-piece a-capella band cased the shadows around the stage in carefully manoeuvred movement, launching the evening's theme of crime and passion.
This opened the floodgates for an engrossing and wide-ranging set as Out of the Blue walked the boards from pop to spiritual to barbershop, interspersing their songs (and delighting the largely student audience) with comedy sketches satirising Oxford life and hilarious mimes to an a-capella audio backdrop.
Every number in the two-hour set was packed with visual and auditory highlights as these guys produced varied and complex multiple-part backing vocals, delivering their songs while often on the move, interchanging lead, harmony and percussive vocal parts and never losing step. Using their own arrangements gives Out of the Blue tremendous scope to improvise and be creative with their songs.
After the interval the band lost their suits, reappearing in casual clothes and launching into renditions of barbershop songs such as I Never See Maggie Alone. The music broke off for a hilarious mimed sketch of a student stealing a book from the Bodleian Library as the sound effects vocalist speeded up his delivery clearly demonstrating who was in charge of the sketch. The action moves seamlessly from tight barbershop harmony to a two-handed mime comedy sketch with those a-capella sound effects, both demanding impeccable timing. In the process Out of the Blue show themselves to be complete performance artists, never losing a beat.
The greatest hilarity came with the spot-on parody of a boy band complete with accurate and clever lyrics deconstructing a standard boy band ballad. The minutely-observed hand gestures and facial expressions drew howls of laughter from the audience. Title of the Song proved the party piece of the evening in a packed set with absolutely no room for fillers, and the memorable concluding line 'Drop to my knees to elicit crowd response' did not fail them.
This was five star vocal entertainment. The pace never flagged, the sound was solid, the lighting evocative and the set switched intriguingly from pop parody to solemn to comedic and back again and the crowd just loved it. The standing ovation which produced two encores was obligatory really and we were treated to a sweet falsetto on The Lion Sleeps Tonight.
Five minutes after the show's close, Out of the Blue emerged onto Beaumont Street to mingle with the audience without a bead of sweat visible on their collective brow. The performance looked as if it had been effortless and that is a tribute to the attitude and professionalism of a band that know their set inside out. My only proviso is that soon Out of the Blue will have to come out of the comfort zone and set themselves further horizons than the welcoming Oxford audience they can almost call their own.