Fashion is a strange, beguiling thing. One minute, you find yourself tragically unhip, so far off the spectrum of cool that Tim Peake wouldn’t even register you on the ISS as remotely worth bothering with. The next, you’re suddenly thrust into the spotlight, imitated and adored by many, all of whom are clamouring to stake a claim as the ones who saw it coming in the first place.
Tame Impala, the Australian psychedelic rock project of multi-instrumentalist Kevin Parker, are a group who find themselves now in the midst of fashion after two albums of critical praise and only moderate chart impact. Their third offering, last year’s Currents, charted in the upper echelons on a worldwide scale. Pop superstar Rihanna has covered them for her latest album. They are poised to tear through the European festival scene this summer in an unprecedented manner.
They’re in the midst of their second continental jaunt behind the new album, having graduated into large-scale venues such as Manchester Arena on the back of their ascent. They’ve definitely earned it; Parker, an experimental perfectionist in the vein of all great auteurs, possesses a fine knack for a pop melody underneath the hazy feedback and is unafraid to widen his horizons. On Currents, he’s made the somewhat disarming sidestep from psychedelic rock into disco, coalescing the two with a smoky dancefloor texture that pervades in a delightful manner, all vintage synths and snatches of organ.
So from the off, Tame Impala make their foray onto the tiles of seventies clubland. As the strains of Motown fade away from the PA, a woozy elongated jam bleeds into the motoring Let It Happen, all angular krautrock and Daft Punk electronica. The crowd of dreamers, a mix of leopard-print, pinstripe and glitter, lap it up in a narcotics-induced mist that removes the need for dry ice entirely. The Moment cribs the shimmering new wave of Tears for Fears with finesse, tied to a shuffling beat. The Less I Know The Better grooves along on its Talking Heads-cum-Donna Summer bassline, as mirrorballs transform the arena into Manchester’s biggest discotheque.
But Parker knows how they got here in the first place, and so his first two efforts, Innerspeaker and Lonerism, are well represented too. Here, the band find familiar territory, delivering the swirling Mind Mischief under a blanket of echo, and the Beatlesque-drive of Why Won’t They Talk to Me?. The stoner-glam stomp of Elephant triggers a boisterous singalong, its riffs taut and snarling. Alter Ego reaches top velocity quickly and proceeds to jangle through a miasma of feedback, a latter-half highlight. It’s trippy in every sense of the word, with Parker, imploring the crowd with repeated calls of “baby” comically reminiscent of Austin Powers in his delivery.
But the newer material works best on the bigger stage, such as the touching Yes I’m Changing, an emotionally-charged space-rock ballad with twinkling synths that conjure the images of a wistful star-filled night sky. Ditto Eventually, whose soaring vocal and string samples gives the impression that it is flying amongst the crowd, carrying them with it. The band itself is tight, with Parker’s vocals near-sublime; but sometimes, synth riffs are lost under each other in a sound mix that struggles on occasion, a drawback of transferring to less subtle, cavernous spaces.
Visually, the show is a simple concept made hyper-effective, delivering eye-popping spirographics, disintegrating film reels, loudspeaker internals and flying comets behind the band on a white sheet. Confetti cannons are launched at various points, and the strobe lighting is representative of a collapsed sun. To invite the obvious comparisons, it is a Floydian show in nature – but Parker has never been one to shy away from his influences. The Detroit-flavoured strut of Apocalypse Dreams and the euphoric Feels Like We Only Go Backwards form a fine psychedelic pairing either side of the encore break, before he bows out with the sensual slow jam of New Person, Same Old Mistakes, where the trance-like organ and hip-hop beats create a heady cocktail. Based on this performance, Parker’s slide into the mainstream hasn’t dulled his creativity; if anything, it has fuelled him to make something truly sparkling, and for that, his dreamers can be grateful.