This impala can't be tamed.
Although Toronto’s Kool Haus is better fit for raves than psychedelic rock concerts, the easygoing Aussies that comprise Tame Impala made themselves at home this past Saturday. The quintet of Kevin Parker (vocals/guitar), Jay Watson (synth, vocals), Dominic Simper (guitar/synth), Nick Allbrook (bass) and Julien Barbagglo (drums) displayed an ability to acclimatize that seems beyond their years. An eclectic sold-out crowd upwards of 2000 people filled the warehouse-like venue, attesting to the band’s heady rise to prominence as a must-see act. From the stonewashed Levis-wearing older men who probably have Rolling Stone subscriptions and stories about the Aerosmith shows they drove cross-country to see in the ‘70s to the bespectacled hipsters who just got off shifts at artisanal, fair-trade coffee shops on Queen Street, I was among good company.
Fellow Perth natives The Growl did a good job of keeping the anxious crowd attentive - or at least as well as anyone opening for Tame Impala can. “Smoke It Down to the Bone” was a groovy piece of stoner blues-rock that was commandeered by an earth-shaking bassline and the frontman’s grizzly vocals. To say that they are the Aussie version of The Black Keys — except they haven’t sold out (no shots, though) — would be fair, but they exceed the comparison.
After a quick soundcheck, which may have just felt that way because of the plentiful number of drinks imbibed, Tame Impala suddenly strode on stage to clamorous applause. Without greeting the multitude of fans, the band complacently jammed before launching into Innerspeaker standout “Solitude Is Bliss.” Even when distorted by vocoder, Parker’s John Lennon-like vocals sent girls swooning into fits. Although the song is about the frontman’s introverted mentality, it brought the crowd together as they ironically sang along to lyrics meant to alienate him from others: “you will never come close to how I feel.”
Flanked by a projection screen that displayed trippy visuals and whose fluctuations seemed to be synced with Parker’s Rickenbacker guitar, the band deftly wove their way through Lonerism’s “Apocalypse Dreams” without appearing to be phased by the large crowd. Heavily touted for their live performances, the band showed their worth with “Music To Walk Home By,” which, even through the Kool Haus’ shoddy sound system, sounded better than the studio version. Sure, the band might’ve employed a genius sound engineer, but the jam-packed closing minute of the song was too well performed to be a fluke. Not content to give the crowd a breather, Allbrook sent the fans into a rabid state with the visceral bassline of “Elephant”. Those who had been politely swaying to and fro lost any sense of middle-class reservation and avidly banged their heads along to the fuzzy jam reminiscent of the ‘60s.
Tame Impala ramped the energy up even further with Lonerism’s clear standout, “Feels Like We Only Go Backwards.” In a brief three minutes, the band expressed their mastery of the oft-done wrong psychedelic genre in a perfect sonic blend of their maximalist use of technology. The 14-song set was tight, but short (too much so) enough to leave everyone pining for more.
Although he had the crowd ready to proclaim him Toronto’s new mayor (God knows he’d fare better than the current KFC poster-boy in office), Parker maintained a steady distance from the concert-goers and made little banter other than to thank everyone for their support. But even without that paltry bit of interaction, the band’s music was more than enough to captivate. Tame Impala is clearly on their way to selling out bigger venues, and next time they roll through Toronto they may well have graduated to the stunning acoustics of Massey Hall. Along with many others, I look forward to it.