Tuesday, June 9, 2015

Live Show Review: Tame Impala - 6/6/15

Tame Impala
Date:  June 6, 2015
Venue:  Echostage, Washington, DC

It's pretty fun, and increasingly rare, to get on board early with a promising new rock band and watch them rise from relative obscurity to international super-stardom in the short span of five years.  I'm talking about psychedelic rockers Tame Impala, all the way from Perth, Australia.  I fell hard for this band when I downloaded their debut album, Innerspeaker, on a whim in the summer of 2010 (my curiosity initially piqued by a sweet album cover that reflected the woozy lava-lamp sound inside) and caught them live with a small crowd of early converts at the divey Black Cat just down the street from my apartment.  I saw them again six months later with a much larger crowd at the same venue, then two years on at a sold out gig at the 1,200 capacity 9:30 Club with the release of their sophomore album Lonerism.  This past weekend, just a couple months ahead of their third album release Currents, I was fortunate to catch them a fourth time in DC with a 4,000-plus throng of revelers at a sold out Echostage.

Tame Impala, Echostage, Washington DC - 6/6/15

Echostage is a cavernous venue best known for hosting massive EDM events headlined by dance music pied-pipers like Avicii, David Guetta, and Tiesto, so it follows that in 2015 Tame Impala seem to have tweaked their sound and adapted their live show to appeal to the wub-wub generation.  All but gone is the nimble jazz-fusion of the band's early rhythm section, now streamlined with the colossal drum kicks, breakbeats, and booming subs of more festival-appropriate genres like hip-hop and EDM.  Likewise, guitars are primarily utilized for color, texture, and the occasional solo, as much of the band's organic jamming is now heavily morphed by samplers and synthesizers to mimic the cuts, fades, drops, and other sonic manipulations commonly employed by deejays.

As EDM deejays have always done, Tame Impala increasingly play off the cycle of anticipation and catharsis favored by the club congregation.  The band opened their Echostage set with new single "Let it Happen," a driving eight minute disco groove featuring a stuttering crescendo and inevitable "drop" that sent the crowd into hysterics.  Later, "Endors Toi," originally a space-rock jam packed with knotty snare rhythms, was retooled and extended with that ubiquitous one-two dubstep beat bros can't resist.  More subtle selections from debut LP Innerspeaker, like "It Is Not Meant To Be," sounded downright anemic by comparison with nary a fist pumped in the whole venue; but newer hits from Tame Impala's breakout sophomore album Lonerism, like their stomping glam-rock anthem "Elephant" and epic multi-part set closer "Apocalypse Dreams" had the masses roaring in approval.  Current single and forthcoming Currents album highlight "'Cause I'm a Man" predictably garnered huge reaction too, with its ironic sexed-up slow jam vibe and elementary (if misunderstood, because they sound sexist at first, but actually aren't if you listen carefully) singalong lyrics - "'Cause I'm a maaaan, woman!" 

Tame Impala, Echostage, Washington DC - 6/6/15

Despite my sardonic tone here, I have to admit Tame Impala put on a great show and I had a blast.  The band's sonic and visual dynamics have greatly improved from their early days of affected shoe-gazing and minimal oscilloscope projections (yes, the oscilloscope squiggles still made an appearance during an appropriately dubbed mid-set goof off called "Oscilly") with band founder and apparent sole creative force Kevin Parker stepping up (literally, on the monitors spraying the crowd with water from a bottle) as a charismatic front man.  Old school fans and cynics might feel discouraged by the band's thriving success, growing fan base, and new musical direction, but Tame Impala's exploration of popular dance music tropes seems natural and inevitable.  Rave adopted and carried the spirit of bygone rock psychedelia after all, and Parker always cited the Chemical Brothers as an influence.  I'm more excited than ever about an ascendant rock band, still on an upward trajectory against all odds (will rock ever really die?).  With their major label debut Currents set to drop in July, Tame Impala are on the verge of bigger things and the next time I see them might very well be at an 18,000+ capacity arena like DC's Verizon Center.  It might not have the charm of the Black Cat, but I'll be there just the same.