At the Commodore Ballroom on Thursday, April 21
Listening to Tame Impala’s recordings didn’t do much to prepare me for the Australian outfit’s live show. Oh sure, I gleaned that the band specializes in paisley-rainbow psych rock, that it really, really likes its effects pedals, and that singer-guitarist Kevin Parker has a knack for writing acid-washed melodies that Syd Barrett would have envied before he stopped caring about such things and retired to his mum’s basement in Cambridge. The trouble with Tame Impala’s studio work to date is that it errs on the lo-fi side, which doesn’t do justice to the full spectrum of the quartet’s mind-stretching sound.
Or maybe it’s just that there was enough B.C. bud smoke circulating around the Commodore on Thursday night to make things sound trippier than they actually were. There were certainly some profoundly baked people in the room, and not all of them were on the stage. Being in an altered state wasn’t a prerequisite for enjoying Tame Impala’s performance, but if you were, the projected image of an oscilloscope that spun and morphed in time with Parker’s guitar playing probably seemed way cooler.
Admittedly, there were times when songs seemed to blend together in a blur of phased-out guitar and droning, reverb-bathed vocals. Even so, Tame Impala clearly knows what it’s doing, with bassist Nick Allbrook and drummer Jay Watson supplying a rock-solid foundation for the sometimes amorphous contributions of Parker and his fellow guitarist Dominic Simper. The songs with the strongest hooks—such as the spiralling unrequited-love lament “It Is Not Meant to Be” and the bell-bottomed funk shuffle “Solitude Is Bliss”—were crowd-pleasers, but Tame Impala’s best moments were arguably its off-template deviations. When the group extended the proto-metal heavy-blues groover “Half Full Glass of Wine” into a mesmerizing motorik vamp, it even managed to drag its sound out of the ’60s, albeit only as far as 1972, the year Neu! put out its first album.
England’s Yuck opened the show with a trip down a more recently paved stretch of memory lane. The young band is often guilty of leaning a little too heavily on its influences, almost all of which are rooted in the late 1980s and early ’90s. It’s hard to argue that this is a great crime, however, when the four-piece is blasting its way through the wiry “Operation” or nailing those awesome stop-start punches in “Get Away”. Yes, those songs owe a considerable debt to Sonic Youth and Dinosaur Jr., but they’re knockouts in their own right.
Daniel Blumberg and Max Bloom delivered a clinic in exactly how two guitarists should play together, with the former sticking mainly to chords and the latter providing some truly inspired leads. How can you not love a guy who not only knows what the whammy bar on his Fender Jaguar is there for, but is also adept at wringing glorious feedback out of his rig?
There is real skill at work in Yuck’s songs, and a number like the sweet-and-sour jangle ballad “Shook Down”, with its lilting verses and harmony-laced vocals, suggests that there’s far more in the London-based musicians’ future than uncannily re-creating the sound of the Lollapalooza generation.
They needn’t bother with the ’60s, though; Tame Impala’s got that one covered.