The ‘Entirely Magnetic’ Tame Impala

SOPHIE NEVRKLA reviews the Australian band’s recent gig. 

Photo Credit: Carolino Faruolo for DIY Mag
Photo Credit: Carolino Faruolo for DIY Mag.

The first thing that strikes a gig-goer when entering Alexandra Palace is its size. It is gargantuan, elephantine – daunting (though exciting) for any band who are given the chance to fill it. Tame Impala are about to do just that. As the support act Jagwar Mar play their set and eager ticket holders gradually fill the arena, the excitement in the air is palpable. Young, old; men, women; one very lost-looking traveller with a backpack. The crowd was as diverse as it gets, reaffirming the obvious: Tame Impala are a band whose music defies boundaries, in terms of demographics as well as genre.

This outing marks the Australian psychedelic rock outfit’s biggest UK show, an appropriate follow up to the phenomenal critical and commercial success that was 2015’s Currents, the band’s third studio album. Currents was an exciting leap into the unknown: lyrically it is fixated on transition and change, elements of disco and R&B working their way into the music, with frontman Kevin Parker stating that he wanted to ‘abandon the rules’ he had previously set up for himself. This gig shared the expansive, exhilarating quality of the album: it felt like one was witnessing something magically new, and that the band were as excited to deliver it as the audience were to receive it.

As 9pm approaches, the lights are dimmed and the screams and roars begin. Tame Impala launch into the two-minute long ‘Intro’, the throbbing synths and languorous riffs merging to form a hell raiser of an opening. From this, the band morph into eight-minute long ‘Let It Happen’, a sprawling epic of a song, all jittery control and frenetic energy: the perfect follow up to the teasing ‘Intro’. As soon as this begins, the crowd are all flailing limbs, laddish singing, and cheers. The tone is set for the rest of the night. 

The rest of the set is carefully arranged to balance more recent tracks with songs from Lonerism (2012) and  Innerspeaker (2010). ‘Mind Mischief’ is played next, a track that provides a nostalgic stepping stone between the more structured, clean Currents and Innerspeaker’s hazy, romantic feel. Indeed, in a few songs’ time, the band transition into the trance-like, dreamy ’It’s Not Meant To Be’ from the first album, all murmured vocals and a nasal, famously Lennonesque quality to Parker’s voice. The band soon jump forward to more recent songs again, emphasising the organic nature of the band’s transformation: whilst newer material is undoubtedly different, it all fits together as a synchronised whole. 

Photo Credit: Carolino Faruolo for DIY Mag
Photo Credit: Carolino Faruolo for DIY Mag

Moving back and forth between records created a rippling, tidal effect, taken further by the band’s immaculately ordered set list. More upbeat songs such as ‘Elephant’ and ‘The Less I Know the Better’ worked fans into a mania, which was then calmed by the slower, soothing ‘Eventually’ and ‘Yes I’m Changing,’ to which the crowd swayed and sung along. ‘Yes I’m changing, can’t stop it now/ And even if I wanted I wouldn’t know how/ Another version of myself I think I’ve found, at last,’ sighs Parker, over thumping drums and synths which cannot decide whether they are in a major or a minor key. Parker perfectly captures the simultaneously mournful and glorious aspects of growing up – moving forward (musically and personally) always involves an element of letting go. This happy sadness is evident in the shift between albums, and colours Currents as a whole. But overall, one gets the sense that Parker is comfortable with the band’s transformation – he is the consummate chameleon. Though he may not go about it quite so obviously, he is a Bowie or Byrne of his generation. 

Throughout all this, Parker controls the crowd with complete professionalism – no unnecessary audience banter littered the performance, except for occasional bursts of ‘Thank you!’ and dry comments like ‘I don’t think I have ever seen so many pairs of hands in all my life.’ Tame Impala keep their focus firmly rooted in substance rather than style: they focus on building up a real relationship with their instruments throughout the gig, rather than a false one with the audience, who have come for the music. This comes with its own kind of charisma, though – Parker and Co. are a little distant, but entirely magnetic. 

The shrieks, yells, cheers, and claps that dragged the band back on stage for an encore reverberate through Ally Pally. The band begin with their most famous song, ‘Feels Like We Only Go Backwards,’ a melancholy love song on acid: Parker’s vocals soar throughout the auditorium as the audience provide backing vocals. But it was fitting for Tame Impala to end on something new. ‘New Person, Same Old Mistakes’ was an apt choice. It mourns both the person and the artist that Parker has left behind, whilst embracing the new. However, Parker ultimately suggests that for the person changing, the whole process is a natural one – he has not radically altered, no matter how it might appear from the outside. Though he might grow and develop, he is still the same person underneath it all as he was on the previous two albums. 

It provided a euphoric end to what has been, quite possibly, the best night of my 2016 so far. As coloured confetti rained down on the audience and coloured psychedelic landscapes danced on the screen behind the band, I felt as though I was changing with Parker. ‘That’s what I always want out of psych music,’ he says in one interview, ‘I want it to transport me.’ And boy, did it ever.