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Tame Impala @ Turner Hall Ballroom

March 3, 2013

Mar. 4, 2013
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It probably goes without saying that psychedelic rock is a fairly loose genre. Beyond a certain set of conventions, like repetition, unconventional song structures and time signatures and general trippiness, it’s makers are usually expected to push boundaries and chart new territory, all of which would seem to make “psychedelic pop” a contradiction in terms, combining as it does one of the most ostensibly liberated forms of music with one of the most regimented and formulaic. And yet, thanks largely to the lucrative youth market of the 1960s (and The Beatles), the surfaces of psychedelia crossed over into the mainstream almost immediately, and have since resurged every now and then to various degrees of commercial success, being particularly well represented again over the past few years. It’s a prime time then for Perth, Australia’s Tame Impala to burst into the American consciousness and, judging by the sold-out crowd at Turner Hall Ballroom Sunday night, they’re well on their way to doing so. But while they carry on a longstanding tradition, it’s hard to claim they add anything new to it.

After an opening set from their fellow countrymen The Growl, who’s torpid, borderline embarrassing blues-rock is not worth elaborating on here, the band took the stage to a roar of applause from the enormous crowd, which made the cavernous hall feel downright small and served as a living, breathing reminder that all hip white people look exactly the same. Most acts with psychedelic leanings use live performances as a chance to stretch out, improvise and elaborate on the well-worn tunes, but by and large the band seemed to stay more or less on script while running through a setlist culled mostly from last year’s much buzzed about Lonerism, and to a lesser extent their 2010 full-length debut Innerspeaker, with a few entries feeling almost fleeting or cut short. They did color outside the lines a few times, as with the extended drum solo and abstract breakdown towards the end of the chugging earworm single “Elephant,” but overall there was a lot more polish than spontaneity, which isn’t that much of a drawback here since, from the pop perspective, the songs all work rather well just as they are.

The band themselves were tight and appeared to be enjoying themselves, and while frontman and chief songwriter Kevin Parker’s accent may have strained what little audience banter there was, his falsetto was in fine form. The crowd was certainly into it, and as well they should be. It was a good show, by and large living up to all the hype, but while there’s a lot to like about Tame Impala, over the course of an hour and a half you begin to realize they’re not the most original or innovative band in the world. You can’t help but begin to pick up on all the familiar elements, a little Dungen here, a little Flaming Lips there, a dash of classic Pink Floyd (and The Beatles) and so on, all boiled down to something which feels a little thin at times, but is always at least likable. That doesn’t make them bad by any means, just a tad derivative and comfortable, which in a heavier realm of psych might be a cardinal sin, but is par for the course, and maybe even a marketable asset, in pop.  


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