It’s been nearly a decade since Kevin Parker started crafting multi-tracked compositions in his tiny bedroom in Perth, Australia. Originally, his artistic ventures as Tame Impala didn’t amount to much more than a handful of psychedelic-inspired home-recordings uploaded to Myspace. Despite their ramshackle framework, Parker’s songs soon caught the attention of labels worldwide (including Modular Records, their current home)–and not just because his lilting falsetto bore an eerie sonic resemblance to a certain Beatle. As the sole writer, performer, and producer of Tame Impala’s recorded material–not to mention an artist influenced just as much by pop-smiths like Roxy Music as, say, the Thirteenth Floor Elevators–Parker is less a performer than a multitasking visionary, the savior of 21st-century psych-rock.
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Three albums into his career, he hasn’t lost an ounce of momentum or critical acclaim–and you can’t blame him for being restless. Having proven his prowess as a rock musician on the first two Tame Impala records, (2010’s Innerspeaker and 2012’s Lonerism), Parker shaped last summer’s laboriously-crafted Currents LP as a genre-defiant crossover. With its heavy use of sampling, its sterling production, and its affinity for new wave’s halcyon days, the album echoed the liminal tendencies of the period at large. The risk-taking paid off: Tame Impala are one of the biggest acts on the road right now, critically adored and co-signed by the likes of Mark Ronson and Rihanna. Last night’s show at the Prospect Park bandshell–the opening night of a double-header that continues this evening at the same venue–legitimized those laurels.
Although Parker records all the music individually, Tame Impala’s live shows feature a full band, comprised largely of his longtime collaborators from the Perth days (GUM’s Jay Watson, Pond’s Cam Avery). That Currents is mainly comprised of synth-heavy tracks–the epic, paranoid “Let It Happen,” the glammy, ‘80s-tinged “The Moment”–doesn’t prove a problem for such a configuration; if anything, the computerized moving parts rendered their amps’ output even more impactful, instilling the already-lush arrangements of their earlier cuts (“Mind Mischief”, “Alter Ego”) with additional texture and gravity. Of course, Parker and company managed just fine without the effects–their leaden, no-BS rendition of Lonerism’s “Elephant” marked the evening’s biggest highlight by far.
Like any psychedelic rock show, Tame Impala’s staging places a heavy emphasis on visuals. There’s an oscillator onstage translating the band’s sonic output into squiggling, luminous orbs, multicolored lights bathing them a rainbow glow, and enough trippy backdrops to make the Flaming Lips blush. Even with such an array of eye candy, nothing could compete to the sight of Parker finally embracing his role as a frontman. Until recently, his onstage presence was almost mouse-like: he’d remain stationary, sheepish, shielded by his guitar. Last night, I witnessed an entirely different man bounding across the stage, climbing atop on the speakers just a few feet away from the crowd, and generally carrying on like a shy high-schooler going hard at prom. Considering how far he’s come in a few short years, I’d have done the same thing.