Kevin Parker’s Tame Impala made a stop by the 9:30 Club last Wednesday, and while they may have had their controls set for the heart of the sun, where they ended up may have been slightly less cosmic. That’s not to say the assembled touring lineup – Tame Impala is largely a one-man studio effort by Parker – didn’t deliver an, at times, hallucinatory and brain melting performance. Layer upon layer of Parker’s modern take on psychedelia were dished out to a blazingly receptive audience who were all more than willing to ride the wave where ever it took them – unfortunately, for the majority of the set that was exactly the same place.
With only a brief detour into 2010’s Innerspeaker, Parker and crew leaned heavily into material off last year’s critically lauded Lonerism, an album that is as divisive in its praise as it is ultimately enjoyable in its technical perfection. That perfection spilled out onto the stage in tracks like opener “Apocalypse Dreams,” “Endors Toi” and “Music To Walk Home By,” but it wasn’t until weighty riffs of “Elephant” and the resulting instrumental exploration that the band seemed to fully engage with the audience, or even acknowledge that they were playing in front of a sold out crowd. Of course that crowd didn’t mind in the least – Tame Impala are the torch bearers du jour for lovers of early Floyd and an assortment of mid- to late-70’s prog rockers.
The thing about THAT music though is that it was fully committed to being weird. It went all in on tearing holes in the space-time continuum with nothing but a cape, an echoplex pedal and an army’s worth of rock lasers. And while Tame Impala’s performance walked right up to that event horizon, the thing it seemed most committed to was simply recreating the sonics of their work, almost note-for-note, rather than exploring mental kaleidoscopy their songs imply.
Lest ye be discouraged, at the end of the day this band, solo project, or whatever it is, is positively bloated with potential. While potential isn’t always realized early on in a career, the fact that this band only morphs into an actual BAND when it’s time to play live makes that natural development all the more unlikely. Take for instance the lighting. In 2010 when Tame Impala played the Black Cat - also in DC - they employed the same oscilloscope graphics projected on a screen behind them that was used for this most recent performance.
At the prior show, the small screen and the graphics worked, because quite frankly, that was all that you could see. The effect was an alternate universe where Kevin Parker and his band of merry tricksters were your guide through the groovy cosmos. Unfortunately that simplistic stage show didn’t manage to scale in proportion to the band’s success. The very same screen, now looking impossibly small, hung over the band at the 9:30 Club like some sort of brilliant, Spinal Tap-ian piece of performance art. Instead of taking the audience away, it took one out of the cosmic sea that Tame Impala was so begging for everyone to dive into.
Prog rock, psychedelia, freak out music…whatever you want to call it … is as close as you can get to the primordial soup that makes up all that is great about rock and roll. It’s where the experimentation happens, the innovation. That being said, this is all tough love. As long as that innovation is happening – and it is, all over Tame Impala and Pond, Kevin Parker’s other (better) band – there’s really nothing for anyone to complain about. But next time Tame Impala comes to town it would be great to get lost in the show again, in the big idea, instead of coming away thinking “next time…next time.” In the end, reviews of Tame Impala’s show don’t really matter, and can be as divisive as the reviews for Lonerism – what does matter is that somewhere in the second row, there was a sixteen-year-old and his/her friends who had their mind positively BLOOOOOWN, and really, in the end that’s what it’s ALL about.