Last night, psychedelic rock outfit Tame Impala kicked off their new tour with a sold out show at Manhattan’s Terminal 5. Packed from wall to wall, the crowd seemed to be comprised of a strong turnout from the band’s Australian countrymen; at times I was convinced I was the only American there. Something about these retro rock bands seems to draw a bizarre mix of a crowd. Reminiscent of a My Morning Jacket crowd, it seemed an even mix of greasy dudes with long hair and mustaches—not unlike the band members themselves—and improbably attractive women who, again improbably, more often than not seemed to have come with the mustached men in question.
After a loose, quick jam, the band kicked right in with a standout track from last year’s Lonerism, “Apocalypse Dreams,” a blend of catchy groove and trippy guitar outros. With Lonerism topping many end of year lists, the band did right to stick close to the songs fans and critics alike adored in 2012. Recent single “Elephant” got a mid-set airing that immediately had people bouncing along to its propulsive riff right up until it broke down into a ramshackle keyboard and drum solo section. Other highlights included “Music to Walk Home By” and “Be Above it.” For the fans who have been around for a few years, there were also plenty of Innerspeaker tracks sprinkled in, including “It Is Not Meant to Be,” “Why Won’t You Make Your Mind?,” and “Solitude Is Bliss.” The main set lasted about an hour and ten minutes, closing with an extended jam. The band soon returned for one more track, their first ever attempt at “Nothing That Has Happened So Far Has Been Anything We Could Control,” which was also drawn out into a gorgeous coda to end the night.
Like many contemporary bands that favor a psychedelic sound, Tame Impala often mixes classic elements of Sixties and Seventies hallucinogenic-friendly stoner rock with the more persistent rhythms and challenging sounds of 70s krautrock bands. Throughout the show, front man Kevin Parker twisted his guitar through an insane array of effects, achieving a stunning spectrum of colors and tones. All along, his ethereal guitar parts were buoyed by a full-bodied rhythm section that alternatively let songs be languid or let them cut loose, as needed. The playing made up for Parker’s occasional shortcomings as a live vocalist, as his voice broke repeatedly or strained to be heard amongst the squalor of the backing music.
With a simple stage set up, the main adornment of Tame Impala’s live show was a single square screen hanging behind them. For the first half of the show, it was black with little green squiggles dancing around—a strangely primitive graphic for a band with such a lush sound. As soon as the riff from “Elephant” kicked in, the videos changed and ushered in one gorgeous set of backing images after another for the rest of the songs in the set. One was sort of classic 60s psychedelic imagery, amorphous colors and liquid patterns. Others were distorted visions of landscapes, red skies or big graphics laid down over the sea and beach. The overall effect was overwhelming, each image was gorgeous on its own and fled too quickly to be fully appreciated, and then the next one was just as good. All of this is to say that it was the perfect visual counterpart to Tame Impala’s music, a seemingly endless succession of sublimity in the forms of perfect guitar breaks, the immaculate spacey keyboard tone. There is rarely a Tame Impala song that doesn’t give you what you want, that doesn’t feature some great shift or chorus. Like the series of images, it’s like an aural sugar rush, an overdose of catharsis. The band’s set clocked in at a brisk hour and twenty minutes. It was too beautiful to handle any more of it.