Of all the 2012 albums that frequented year-end lists, few were praised as highly and as often as Tame Impala’s Lonerism. The Australian band’s follow-up to their also critically acclaimed debut album, Innerspeaker, showcased a more accessible pop element, yet, it did so without comprising the band’s psychedelic rock integrity. Needless to say, the degree of that shift worked; many of the dates on the North American tour have sold out, and Sunday night in Milwaukee was no exception.
Much of the sold-out crowd had already arrived when I entered Turner Hall midway through The Growl’s opening set. The Growl was a little different. They didn’t seem to carry the same psychedelic charm that surrounds their fellow Aussie tour mates. In fact, they came off more as a hard rock band, but that’s just from the few songs I heard. Regardless, it seemed the more pronounced of the indie rock faithful in the crowd weren’t feeling it.
This was my first time seeing Tame Impala, but from early on in the set I could tell they liked to mix things up from the studio version of the songs. As one concertgoer put it later in the night, “If I wanted to hear the album version, I’d go home and play the album.” It isn’t that cut and dry but I can see where the philosophy comes from. However, if you’re seeing any sort of psychedelic/jam band then you should almost be expecting things to get extended, flushed out, merged together, and even sometimes, a little weird.
Innerspeaker single “Solitude Is Bliss” got the groove going early in the night. 60’s drenched “Apocalypse Dreams” was another early set standout. Tame Impala is masterminded by lead singer and guitarist Kevin Parker. Onstage, Parker stays pretty locked in to the song at hand and the band’s overall sound, yet he will at times unveil a moment of quiet effortlessness; an impressive characteristic for a young frontman. He didn’t banter a ton between songs, instead, preferring to lead the band into transition jams, but he was having fun onstage and the Milwaukee crowd could feel it.
Even with Parker’s prominent role in the band, the other musicians on stage have no problem shining in the live spotlight. Tame Impala’s live drummer specifically stood out on several songs, including on an enthused performance of Lonerism gem “Music To Walk Home By.” Also, it was Jay Watson playing keys on the right side of the stage, and with his rhythmic head bopping during the show, he had an uncanny resemblance to the Peanut’s pianist character, Schroeder. I know it’s an odd observation to make, but it’s there, a fun dude to watch.
Obviously “Elephant” and “Feels Like We Only Go Backwards” were crowd favorites, the latter especially was a fun moment in the night. There’s a break in the song where Parker is not strumming his guitar, and he simply sings with his hands behind his back; it’s sort of a surreal, carefree moment, and it seems he’s just absorbing the enamoring reception people have for the fantastic tune. At least that’s my sentimental takeaway. I actually was taken aback a bit by just how many people were singing along and mouthing lyrics in the crowd, not only to the hits, but all the songs. Tame Impala has some devout fans because it’s going to take a number of listens or a few online searches to get some of those songs transcribed.
Tame Impala puts on a fresh, live show. The catchy melodies always see to balance out the longer psychedelic trance moments; it’s a wonderful dichotomy. Even with all the critical acclaim of their studio albums, Parker and mates are not afraid of spicing up the live takes and it works, truly making each show a unique experience. In the next week or so, Tame Impala wraps up this leg of their mostly sold-out North American tour, and as it goes, this is likely the last time we’ll catch them in venues of these sizes.