9:59 AM CST, March 7, 2013
Kevin Parker, the lean singer in the Australian band Tame Impala, has skills that go beyond music -- like tap-dancing barefoot, for example.
Parker hovered over two racks of foot pedals and let his toes do the walking throughout a 90-minute set Wednesday at the sold-out Vic Theatre. His motto: Let no note go undistorted. Guitar tones were smudged, phased and fried, central to the grand edifices of warped melody at the core of many of Tame Impala's songs.
An obsessive, detail-obsessed one-man-band in the recording studio, Parker has emerged with two acclaimed Tame Impala albums, "Innerspeaker" in 2010 and last year's "Lonerism." But in concert he opens up these insular songs and lets his excellent band add a few twists of its own.
It made for a concert that spanned eras, sometimes within the space of a few musical bars, from the blues jams and drum solos of '60s rock to the electronic flourishes of contemporary underground dance music. The through line that connected this boundary-hopping was a brand of headphone-friendly psychedelia, where songs suggested three-dimensional collages of sound as much as individual notes and chords. The backdrop for much of the show was a video of what appeared to be a fluorescent string, constantly mutating into a seemingly endless series of shapes and sizes – an appropriate visual metaphor for what Parker and his bandmates did with a few chords.
"Half Full Glass of Wine" started fast, then abruptly slowed to a chug, with an androgynous vocal over a dirty, distorted blues riff played by three guitars. At times it echoed a vintage Cream rave-up, then suddenly took things down to a one-chord drone and an insistent rhythm that slipped into the gear invented by trancy, German art-rock bands such as Neu.
The bouncy, doubled-guitar riff of “Elephant” cleared the way for a Julien Barbagallo drum solo – one of two during the night. Parker bowed in the drummer’s direction, then as the percussion dropped to barely above a whisper, the guitarist brought things roaring back to life with a wah-wah-pedal riff.
At other moments, the songs suggested the work of an all-seeing DJ, playing the band like a vinyl record on a turntable. “Be Above It” was built on an electronic drum loop, with Barbagallo adding accents and embellishments with mallets. With its choppy drums and keyboards, “Endors Toi” evoked the syncopated sound of a hip-hop break beat. The beautifully hazy “Feels Like We Only Go Backwards” conjured a carnival ride in slow-motion rewind.
The arrangements were packed to bursting with counterpoint lines – a weave of melody and chaos that made Parker’s voice sound only more vulnerable and adrift. "I’ve got a body that my mind can leave," he sang, as if on the verge of disconnecting from everything.
The narrator’s only solace, these songs suggested, was the music itself: that all-enveloping sound, the dirt in the distortion, and the bliss in tap-dancing shoeless on guitar pedals.
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