Tame Impala took over the Bay Area this weekend with a pair of sold out shows at The Greek Theatre at UC Berkeley with Unknown Mortal Orchestra supporting on Friday and Saturday September 2 and 3.
The Australian quintet with a penchant for psychedelics has been on the front edge of popularity across the world and with lead singer and guitarist Kevin Parker’s collaboration with Mark Ronson on “Daffodils”, that stock is ever increasing.
Tame Impala is made of up of Parker, Jay Watson and Dominic Simper share synthesizer, guitar and vocal duties, Cam Avery on bass and vocals and Julien Barbagallo manning the drum kit as well as adding complex vocal harmonies.
They are currently on tour for their third full-length album Currents and each week this summer has taken them to a different corner of the world, including a total of 12 stand-out appearances in the United States this summer. From a near-instant sell out of Red Rocks in Colorado, Project Pabst in the Pacific Northwest and a pair of shows at The Prospect Park Bandshell in Brooklyn, Tame Impala has been greeted with more than slightly enthused fans.
One thing about having a highly technical stage production around subtlety nuanced psychedelia is that once you have got what you are going for, there isn’t much room to wiggle. Fans who made it a point to catch more than one of the band’s appearances throughout the summer would have most likely been treated to the same songs, most likely in the same order, too.
However, the quality of production that Tame Impala put on was second to none and it was personally the most impressive combination of music and visual cues that I have witnessed since my virgin Red Rocks performance. Featuring Beats Antique opening for Primus’ Chocolate Factory show in the freezing rain, I didn’t have any other real or comparable benchmark for something of this caliber. It didn’t matter whether they played the exact same songs or not because against the moment, it was completely irrelevant.
For many music fans that prefer to see a new set list every night and an ultimately unique experience, this might come as a disappointment; Unknown Mortal Orchestra also played it safe and stuck to what they had prepared, but they also were able to keep the crowd on their toes to some degree. But the best part of having your go-to routine down flawlessly, is that that you can execute it, flawlessly.
The excitement in the crowd mixed with the back-to-school fervor of UC Berkeley. It was impossible not to walk by or against fraternity rushes and groups of freshman trying to decide where they needed to be. But as young as the evening was, there was still plenty of time for the main event on campus. By the time Unknown Mortal Orchestra took the stage (15 minutes early at 7:45PM), the entirety of the venue was nearly full and screaming.
UMO, a cross-continental foursome between Oregon, USA and Auckland, New Zealand made up of Ruban Nielson, Jake Portrait, Quincy McCrary and Riley Geare, took control of the evening fairly easily, although for the first few songs they let the crowd think they were in charge by keeping the opening selections “From The Sun” > “How Can You Luv Me” on par with the majority of their shows.
Three songs in, however, they let the Bay Area know they knew where they were and bobbed into an upbeat, fast paced take on the Grateful Dead’s “Shakedown Street”. The rail riders, comprised mostly of teen screamers dying for Tame Impala to grace their sightline, had no idea what was going on, but for the only instance the rest of the evening, they were drowned out.
Watch the band’s music video for “Shakedown Street” below.
“Thought Ballune” and older tune from 2011’s self-titled debut album Unknown Mortal Orchestra followed, with their latest single “The World Is Crowded” right behind it. They continued skipping between their albums, moving onto “So Good At Being In Trouble” from 2013’s II.
There was a noticeable difference in song structure between each selection and the corresponding time period. In the newer song, “Crowded”, Nielson bounced around the stage in a very Prince-inspired manner with cleaner and crisper vocals and the song was upbeat and full. In contrast, the older songs featured heavily filtered vocals and a more punk rock sense of maddening melodies.
“Swim and Sleep (Like a Shark)” featured a killer keys solo at the song’s end. The lights went low save for a spot light on the McCrary, and the rest of the band bowed or took a knee. During the song “Stage or Screen”, Nielson climbed the lighting rig on the side of the stage, reaching a height of over 40 feet while his band and crew did their best to keep from panicking.
They ended their hour long, 11 song set with their breakout single “Ffunny Ffriends” and two songs from their most recent release, 2015’s Multi-Love: the title track, and the single “Can’t Keep Checking My Phone”. Easily the most impressive thing about UMO was their aloof presence on stage and how little it translated into an aloof selection of music. None of the songs sounded the same, and they touched on several genres that are not easy to extrapolate from. The vocals were overtouched for the most part, but the aesthetic played well with the music overall.
But the main event, Tame Impala, was not, could not be overshadowed. Even before they took the stage, they were creating fevered excitement with their sound and sight engineers setting up the stage, all dressed in white lab coats. It’s safe to say Tame Impala uses mad science to craft their sound.
Every time a mic was checked and a string was tuned or an image blasted on the backdrop, legions of screaming fans let loose. By the time Tame Impala took the stage and the lights went down for real at 9:15PM, the crowd was deafening and demanding.
If you’ve been following them this summer, you already know that they opened with “Nangs” and slid into one of the most critically acclaimed songs of 2015, “Let It Happen”. It, obvious to those in attendance, means no less than 4 confetti cannons that pulsate metric tons of bits of paper into the sky. Just let it happen. Usually a display arranged for a finale of sorts, Tame Impala chose to open their show with at least an equal enthusiasm that they were receiving from the crowd.
“Mind Mischief” melted into a tease of “Music To Walk Home By” before launching full force into the aching pair of “Why Won’t You Make Up Your Mind?” and “Why Won’t They Talk To Me?” Parker took a break to address the crowd at this point, making sure that everyone was OK and asking how everyone was feeling before introducing “The Moment”.
Parker’s sleeper hit “Elephant” barreled through the speakers next, followed by “The Less I Know The Better”. Technically the only cover of the evening, “Daffodils”, was the tenth song in less than an hour that the band hit on. Working with The Greek’s strict 11PM curfew, they were not taking many liberties with their time and keeping the songs relatively straightforward. There were extended intros and outros, but it was not until the next track, “Eventually” that they finally opened up a song and explored it from the inside out via an in the moment jam.
A pair of tracks from 2010’s debut album Innerspeaker, “Alter Ego” and “It Is Not Meant To Be” were sandwiched around “Oscilly”, a non-specific noise track that is not featured on any official recording. Essentially, “Ocsilly” saw the band leave Parker alone onstage with a guitar and his back to the crowd. On the projector was an image that measured the harmonics of the notes being played. Parker ran through circles, flower of life interpretations and star patterns, all manipulated by the notes and tones he plays on his guitar, harmonious and discordant alike before the rest of the band returned for “It’s Not Meant To Be”.
They closed their set with a spacey, ten minutes of noise around “Apocalypse Dreams”, eventually walking off the stage after setting down their instruments, still ringing and garnering a massive amount of feedback before the mad scientist engineers returned to the stage to assess the damage.
Once the noise stopped and the engineers checked everything out, the band returned, drinking beer that tasted like vegemite and addressing the crowd. “We were out in Oakland last night,” said Parker. “We got pretty shitfaced, I didn’t think I was going to play the show tonight. You guys are better than painkillers.”
For the encore, they chose the ultra-dreamy “Feels Like We’re Only Going Backwards” and “New Person Same Old Mistakes” to close the show, accompanied again by multiple blasts from their confetti cannons.
The hype is real. Missing Tame Impala ought to be avoided at any cost.