It says everything about Tame Impala’s growing profile that Saturday night’s show at the Fonda Theater was actually their second straight sell out in Los Angeles, having filled El Rey Theater the night before. The reason for the sudden surge in popularity is difficult to pinpoint, but it just might have something to do with the recent release of their sophomore effort, Lonerism, which has garnered a whole slew of very happy reviews for the band and made them undoubtedly the Australian psychedelic pop throwback band of the moment. If nothing else, a double bill of packed shows in LA is a hell of a way to end a national headlining tour.
Tame Impala knows it as well. There was little between-song chat from the band, but the little there was seemed to be focused on genuine gratitude and a kind of awe that they were here, in LA, playing a pretty big show for a Saturday night Hollywood crowd. The confines of the Fonda Theater with its exemplary acoustics were perfect for the band’s strong point, which is that swirling retro sound that evokes Californian parties at the end of the hippie era (parties that most of us are not old enough to have been witness to). Driven by a tight-as-hell rhythm section, guitar lines are not so much played as floated over the bass lines with huge swathes of effect pedal work. Kevin Parker’s vocals seemed constantly buried in reverb, as is the desired effect for music that I’m pretty sure sounds awesome when you’re high.
Everything about Tame Impala seems to reach back to a bygone era, from the hair to the simple set up to the trippy but fairly simplistic visuals at the back of the stage. They certainly play this music with aplomb, and theirs is the kind of sound that one could happily swim around in without too much thought. However, there were more than a few moments in the set where the music was less than hypnotic, and I still remain unconvinced that the band is bringing anything new to the table and wonder if they are just expertly recycling music by better bands from that bygone era.
There are two things working in Tame Impala’s favor, though. The first is their natural and loose stage presence, as they overcame what looked to me like a little early tension to really enjoy themselves for the second half of the set. The second is that when the songwriting clicks with the sound, the results can be pretty spectacular. The glam stomp of “Elephant” was joyous (notwithstanding an ill-judged, momentum-killing breakdown towards the end of the song), “Feeling Like We Only Go Backwards” sounded lush in a slightly slowed down form that really brought the song’s doomed romanticism to the foreground, and the woozy keyboard line that leads “Endors Toi” sounds even trippier on stage than it does on record. Of their earlier work, “Solitude Is Bliss” was an early set highlight, the song that kicked the crowd into another excitable gear.
My initial thought as I left the venue was that while my enthusiasm for the band might not match that of some of their recent praise, there is a sense that Tame Impala and its audience have met at the right time. Their psychedelic, groove-driven rock may have been done well in the past, but you get the idea there is no one around doing it better at the moment, and I get the impression that the audience isn’t done growing just yet. Come summer 2013, this lot could be headlining a festival near you, and on a sunny afternoon in a field, they’re going to sound perfect.
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