Characters ranging from young, paisley headband wearing teens, to 70s rock veterans all flooded in to the small Oxford O2 Academy in preparation for what promised to be a hypnotic headline performance from Australian band Tame Impala. This gig felt particularly special as it was a one off warm up show for their support slots at the huge Arctic Monkeys shows in Finsbury Park.
First up was another Australian songwriter, Kirin J Callinan. He also came with a band to help him perform his somewhat intense music. For the first half of the set, the band performed songs with strangely energetic yet apocalyptic soundscapes. Bass, synth and drums rumbled so prominently it was hard to tell the difference between the three. Guitar didn’t sound much like guitar, but made piercing white noise. Callinan’s lead vocal crooned through these sounds, sounding reminiscent of Ian Curtis’s agonized and passionate vocal style. People reacted to this in 3 ways. Some stood and looked on with puzzle and dismay, some listened carefully and tried to understand what was going on, and some danced erratically. There was a brief break in this very experimental style mid-set, where some more relaxed, melodic and pop-styled numbers were played. One of these tracks was the refreshingly dreamy and vaguely anthemic single “Landslide”. This didn’t last before Callinan whipped his top off like a diva, and they dived back in to a couple of rhythmically complex and sonically intense tracks to close their set. Callinan’s silhouette could be seen charismatically dropping to his knees and pulling shapes as he belted vocals down the mic. It proved an interesting and entertaining set to say the least, and it certainly split opinions amongst the crowd.
Tame Impala modestly walked on and Kevin Parker quickly created a wash of hazy feedback with his guitar and pedals. This worked as a mystifying intro before jumping straight in to ‘Innerspeaker’ opener ‘It’s Not Meant To Be’, which proved as an instant crowd pleaser. Parker then informed the crowd he had “good news and bad news”. The response was a collective groan and shouts for the bad news first. A bunged up Parker responded “I have a cold. So sorry if my vocals crack up tonight. But the good news is that I don’t mind.” It certainly didn’t seem to hinder Parker’s performance as they burst through ‘Apocalypse Dreams’, complete with tight, impressive rhythm section and a staggeringly epic outro. There was no more chatting before the band broke in to a beautifully trance-esque version of ‘Be Above It’, transforming the crowd in to an accompanying rave.
Suspicious puffs of smoke wafted through the crowd which were very quickly detected by security, who dragged the young hopeful out of the crowd. Not that this distracted anyone – glassy eyes were absorbed in a different kind of high; down to Tame Impala’s psychedelic walls of sound.
Snappy but equally compelling songs ‘Endors Toi’ and ‘Solitude is Bliss’ were received with bouncing mosh pits. This reaction continued through a surprising mid-set airing of ‘Half Full Glass Of Wine’, from the first EP.
What the band seem to do so well is elevate the studio recordings in to hugely invigorating and different versions. This is especially true with ‘Mind Mischief’, which is played mainly instrumentally, and incorporates elements of a jam (‘Sestri Levante’) played earlier in the set. This worked as a brilliant way to keep the set flowing, and shows that the band aren’t lazy when it comes to making shows work as a whole experience, just like an album.
Parker next told the buzzing crowd that they were “going to play a song we’ve never played before”. “Hopefully you’ll know it by now”, Parker pondered. “What’s it called?”, an audience member heckled, to which he replied: “Oh yeah sorry, it’s ‘Beverly Laurel’” in a down-to-earth manner. A front chunk of the crowd screamed with excitement, whilst most of the crowd stood puzzled at the fairly obscure synth led dance track, which features as a ‘Lonerism’ deluxe box-set only bonus track. Parker seemed a tad disappointed at the static reaction here, but ensured the crowd they’d know the next song, before launching in to hit single ‘Elephant’, which very suddenly turned the whole room in to yet another rave.
Before playing set closer ‘Desire Be, Desire Go’, Parker had a play with the sound reactive, oscillating visuals. To sonic nerds such as myself, this was fascinating and mesmeric to watch. To others, it was a time to chat and get their phones out. You can’t please everyone clearly.
If the jam placed mid way through an energetic version of ‘Desire Be, Desire Go’ is anything to go by, the new album should be more of the blissed-out guitars and synths, combined with sweet falsetto vocals and groove-laden rhythm that Parker masters so well. This groove was demonstrated further with a solo synth and kick drum performance (partnered with more colourful and vivid visuals), before the whole band joined talented drummer, Julien Barbagello, back on stage for an anthemic rendition of ‘Feels Like We Only Go Backwards’, which Parker left most of the singing to crowd as his tender voice crackled up.
“I had my first pint of Fosters today” joked bassist Cam Avery (pointing out Fosters is, ironically, not available in Australia). This sparked a bantering discussion between the band and audience about the quality of the drink. Parker then exclaimed the night had gone “a million times better“ than he expected, and that he’d “never cancel on his fans”. It is non-prepared, genuine and friendly chat like this that so many bands lack from their live set (take note Alex Turner).
The band brought the show to a close with, suitable ‘Lonerism’ closer, “Nothing That Has Happened So Far Has Been Anything We Could Control”. A euphoric psychedelic odyssey though it was, you couldn’t help but feel for Kevin Parker with his wobbly falsetto vocal, which he gave up on eventually, laughing at himself in the process.
Tame Impala are a totally enthralling, yet fun and laid back band to see perform live. If they could be faulted, it’s that they do not really interact with the crowd whilst performing. However the stunning visuals and intricate nature of the music speak for themselves. The set felt like it could have gone on for at least a couple of songs longer, but this was really due to the whole show leaving the audience in awe at the end. Overall, a breathtaking set.