Tame Impala wows a sold-out Turner Hall
- Satan for the masses: Ghost B.C. brings spooky Swedish metal to Turner Hall
- Black Rebel Motorcycle Club deliver bombastic, potent show at Turner Hall
- Joe Bonamassa falls into familiar blues groove at Riverside Theater
- Milwaukee Psych Fest delivers variations on a tripped-out theme
- The Joy Formidable makes the case for a damn fine rock show at Turner Hall
Lonerism, the much-lauded second album by Australia’s Tame Impala, is largely notable for its Beatles-esque melodic rock songs and immaculate, psychedelic production. The Beatles, in their wisdom and/or cowardice, quit the touring game before facing down the challenge of recreating meticulous studio works like Revolver and Sgt. Pepper in a live setting, but modern bands facing an untenable record industry don’t have that luxury. Kevin Parker, who recorded Lonerism almost entirely by himself, has a lot more technology to lean on than John Lennon did, but he’s still up against a lot of variables in taking a band on the road to play his songs and turn them into something other than a louder version of the album. At a sold-out Turner Hall Sunday night, Parker’s vision stretched beyond the confines of his compositions, and the band’s performance lived up to its considerable hype.
The biggest hurdle Parker had to overcome was the limitation of his own voice. Without the support of studio wizardry, his Lennon-esque timbre came off much more whiny and nasal; particularly on tunes like “Apocalypse Dreams” and “Feels Like We Only Go Backwards,” he struggled to hit notes, relied on a weak falsetto, and generally sounded a bit awkward. For most of the show, he stuck to a feasible range, and his vocals were heavily treated with effects and/or drowned in guitar and synth noise, so it wasn’t a major distraction. At times, such as on “Music To Walk Home By” and “Alter Ego,” Parker’s scratchy and squeaky moments evoked the innocent nature of his lyrics to perfection, and he wasn’t without emotional and dynamic power, but could definitely benefit from some vocal training if he wants to properly convey the great melodies from his albums night after night.
Musically, Parker and the band rarely made a misstep. This was a rare instance where opening with an old tune that put you on the map like “Solitude” was a risky move; most of this crowd was here solely because of Lonerism, so beginning with old tracks and nebulous jams took balls, but it worked. Through “Be Above It” (the third song proper), it seemed as though the sound guys were still tweaking things; the vocals were abrasively high in the mix, and there was no flow to the set. But beginning with “Endors Toi,” the band found its groove and settled into a confident stride that showcased not just intuitive readings of its catalog but also a few radical departures. The three-second drum breakdown at the end of the studio version of “Elephant” became a minimalist jazz/reggae excursion prior to the triumphant final “yeah.” “Mind Mischief” started out normally, but where the first verse ought to have started, the band veered into a variation on the bridge, eschewing most of the lyrics for a drastic rearrangement that was spooky and fascinating—even thought it undermined the massive sing-along potential. Through it all, the walls of sound sometimes reached My Bloody Valentine levels, and the intuitive ensemble playing resulted in some overwhelming waves of creativity.
With the crowd eating out of his hand, Parker deftly closed the show with possibly his two most surefire weapons. “Half Full Glass Of Wine,” the band’s first homeland hit and obvious precursor to the worldwide breakthrough of “Elephant,” featured a stretch of slow-burn improv that barely allowed a catching of the breath among its ridiculously satisfying blues-rock riffage. The encore, “Nothing That Has Happened So Far Has Been Anything We Could Control,” is the confounding climax of Lonerism. It taunts the listener with potential danceability without ever surrendering to a steady beat, but touring drummer Julien Barbagallo took Parker’s framework and crafted a mesmerizing pastiche of percussion that was more propulsive and accessible than the studio rendition, but still unpredictable and tense. It was a brilliant ending to the show. Tame Impala could’ve just played its records straight and capitalized on its blockbuster of buzz, but Kevin Parker clearly has artistic longevity in mind, and he’s on the right track.