It’s a telling indication of how Australian psych-rockers Tame Impala view themselves. They saunter on stage just seconds after their last roadie has departed it and moments before the house lights are lowered to announce their imminent arrival. It’s a slightly awkward moment which the sold-out crowd at Amsterdam’s Paradiso venue don’t quite know what to do with. The rising anticipation of the band’s arrival in darkness seems to deflate like a punctured tire as the quintet of shaggy-haired Antipodeans shuffle about the stage collecting their instruments under the fierce fluorescent glare. Even the lighting operator is thrown by this seemingly unconscious shunning of stage etiquette, lowering the lights for a brief second before realizing the moment has passed, and raising them again. The band, barely acknowledging the crowd or the faux pas that they’ve just made, plug in, sweep their lank tresses behind their ears and get on with the business at hand.
Tame Impala are not rock stars. They don’t see themselves as objects of adoration or individuals worthy of gushing prose and column inches of acclaim. They’re musicians and slightly wonky ones at that. The screams that eventually rise to the rafters of this former chapel provoke bashful smiles on stage and uncomfortable twitching with the bare-footed Mowgli of a front man Kevin Parker hopping and skipping with shy urgency around his mike as his band limber up. It’s only when they launch into set opener ‘Be Above It’ that the five willowy figures grow in stature and start filling the space above the nodding, predominantly teenage, heads with a throbbing aura. An urgent drum beat begins to rattle around the walls as the vibrating strings and ethereal keys begin to form the swirling psychedelic fog of noise which will ebb and flow for the best part of 90 minutes. Parker’s somewhat reedy voice initially struggles to be heard through the growing colorful storm, unnerving him slightly, but he visibly stabilizes as he chugs out the opening chords of the storming ‘Solitude is Bliss’ from debut album Innerspeaker and launches into the verse with verve.
This sets a pattern for the whole gig. The older numbers, more rocky and robust than those from current album Lonerism, are attacked with an intensity which seems beyond these unassuming and callow-looking youths when they’re not conjuring their magic. ‘Lucidity’ starts abruptly and stomps off on a gargantuan glam riff, played simultaneously by Parker and bassist Nick Allbrook, before melting into a free-for-all which is both full of abandon and control; ‘Alter Ego’ runs away on Julien Barbagallo’s skittering drums with Parker, fellow guitarist Dom Simper and Allbrook chasing the beat as Jay Watson’s synth sends SOS alarms into the smoky air; despite being a slow groove on record, the live version of ‘Why Won’t You Make Up Your Mind’ also bursts out of the gate on Barbagallo’s beats before each of the Impalas drop into the groove. Parker’s uncovered toes twitch pedals and twiddle nobs as the sound grows and melds into a soaring acid-tinged hymn worthy of this place of musical worship. ‘Desire Be, Desire Go’ starts off on a screeching wave of feedback before Parker starts slashing at his distorted Rickenbacker, sending the young crowd into raptures.
The new material, more delicate, nuanced and dream-like on record than those on Innerspeaker, is even more multi-layered and expansive live, which appears to appeal to the older members of the audience, perhaps drawn to Lonerism‘s similarities to early Pink Floyd and the more paisley-tinged aspects of the Beatles. These are the songs in which Allbrook and Barbagallo excel. This is a rhythm section as telepathically in tune and at one with each other as John Paul Jones and John Bonham in their pomp. While Parker, Simper and Watson freestyle through 10-minute lysergic workouts of ‘Endors Toi’ and ‘Music to Walk Home By’, bassist and drummer are anchoring the sound while adding intricate fills and runs of their own to create a sonic smorgasbord. On the Lennon-esque ‘Feels Like We Only Go Backwards,’ its Allbrook who stars, driving the melody with a lazy and dreamy groove which pierces through the mistiness of the plaintive ballad.
Keyboardist Watson seems lost in his own thoughts or mildly disinterested at times, head resting on a propped up hand as he waits for his part. But his is an under-rated but important job. When the joyous stomp of ‘Elephant’ fires up and the pit becomes a seething mass in front of the stage, he waits patiently until his keys are required to bring the glitter-clad pachyderm to life.
Even though some songs seem to go on for days – ‘It Is Not Meant To Be’ gets not one but two intrusive ovations as the crowd are tricked by a number of pauses and restarts – the overwhelming feeling is that, despite the apparent lack of restraint, this is a supremely drilled band. Parker is always in control, even when he’s falling to the floor or playing on his knees or back, and everyone knows where they should be in each song and what they should be doing there. Set closer ‘Apocalypse Dreams’ is another supreme example. A simple pop song hanging loosely on a Motown drum and bass beat, the band employ all their tricks to go out with a bang, building the outro into a five-minute crescendo which leaves the Amsterdam crowd breathless. Then as quietly as they entered, they’re gone – only to return with the sublime ‘Half Full Glass of Wine’. It’s another raucous glam-inspired groove which has the waves of fans ebbing and flowing like an ecstatic ocean, breaking like surf on the safety barriers. It’s a send off which leaves these accidental rock stars beaming with embarrassed glee and stumbling over wires and each to get to the safety of their back stage sanctuary.
First published on: Puluche.com