Tame Impala fill Union Transfer with warm psych vibes (photos, review, setlist)

Australia’s Tame Impala embodies a certain duality: their music — while warm, encompassing, and enveloping — comes from some place isolated and despondent. A glance at LP and track names confirms this (the new record is called Lonerism; song titles include “Solitude Is Bliss” and “Why Won’t They Talk to Me?”) and front man Kevin Parker has stated in interviews that he writes to “fill a void” of desperation. This creates an uniquely intense listening experience, in which one feels both liberated by soaring melodies, and overcome by melancholy. Live, this duality mostly remains intact, as the band demonstrated last night at Union Transfer. Playing to a sold-out crowd, the 5-piece indulged emotion and freak-outs as they rocked their way through an hour-and-20-minute set, drawn from both Lonerism and previous release InnerSpeaker.

As front man, Kevin Parker pretty much is Tame Impala, a fact made evident by his position center stage with the rest of the band behind him, in indirect light. Unfortunately, Parker himself is not much of a showman (save a few dramatic falls to the floor as he attacked his guitar), but that’s ok — a giant Winamp-inspired visualizer added a new dimension of trippiness.

The band itself proved incredibly tight and skilled, recreating the slippery, expansive sound of recordings with amazing accuracy. Opener “Be Above It,” which is also the opening track on Lonerism, was a forcefield of pounding drums and keyboardist Jay Watson’s relentless, chugging refrain: “Gotta be above it, gotta be above it.” Follower “Solitude Is Bliss” rang out with exuberance, the rest of the band raging around a relatively somber Parker, who crooned — in truly melancholic form — “You will never come close to how I feel.”

Lonerism single “Elephant” was a set highlight, the visualizer flashing images of concentric circles, pulsing and contracting along with the guitar chords, as drummer Julien Barbegello laid down a thumping beat. About halfway through, the band indulged a breakdown, Barbegello and Watson delving into jazz territory for an extended improvisation. From there, it was straight into (subsequent single) “Feels Like We Only Go Backwards,” Parker clutching the mic with two hands, voice cracking slightly as he choked, “I’m just holding on to the hope that maybe your feelings don’t show.” This song felt particularly poignant, the crowd waving their hands in the air as they swayed along.

Vocally, Parker seemed to channel John Lennon throughout, although visually, he appeared more like an icon of the grunge era, long hair tucked behind his ears as he stood disaffected, his willowy frame seeming slight in comparison to the enormity of the venue. He rarely spoke, pausing between numbers only to thank the crowd and comment that this was one of the “biggest places we’ve played.” It’s clear that unlike some of the more extroverted performers who’ve graced the UT stage, who engage the crowd with small talk and dramatics (see: Ariel Pink; Dan Boeckner), Parker prefers to let the music do the expressing for him, moving his body only when the melodies compelled him to do so.

The band ended its set with “Apocalypse Dreams,” a standout track on Lonerism that considers positive  forward movement before concluding that “nothing ever changes” — the beat slowing as if weighed down by stasis. The encore featured an extended version of “Half Full Glass of Wine” from the band’s 2008 self-titled EP: a powerful, skulking drum beat inspiring a few eager crowd-surfers to relish the final moments in the air. When the lights finally came up, it was like being jarred back to reality. Tame Impala boast the power to transport, and the journey was certainly an extraordinary one.

Setlist
Be Above It
Solitude Is Bliss
Endors Toi
It Is Not Meant to Be
Music to Walk Home By
Elephant
Feels Like We Only Go Backwards
Lucidity
Alter Ego
Mind Mischief
Why Won’t You Make Up Your Mind?
Desire Be Desire Go
Apocalypse Dreams

Encore:
Half Full Glass of Wine

  • Hadaddy

    I was there. My life is no longer the same.