Tame Impala Can Bend Soundwaves and Brainwaves Better Than You

Categories: Last Night
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Tame Impala and the oscilloscope wriggles. Pics by Ian, more after the jump.
Tame Impala
Seventeen Evergreen
December 13, 2010
@ The Independent

Better than: Conventional uses of an oscilloscope.

Tame Impala will not make you feel like you can be in a band.

If you are of modest musical experience and considering joining and/or starting a band, we suggest you take in a live performance by these young Australian psych-wizards, and then reconsider.

This is not meant as an affront to your creative and technical skills, the depth of which we, of course, know nothing. Perhaps you, like the four beanpoles who addressed a sold-out Independent crowd last night, enjoy the ability to instantly jump from abstract slinky-guitar warbling into blunt stoner-rock riffage, and then back, with not a single extraneous sound. Perhaps you possess the imagination to unlock new-seeming sonic territories with simply two guitars, drums, bass, and a battery of electronics. Perhaps you will perform barefoot, singing, soloing, and whammy-barring, all while manipulating the controls of your massive set of effects pedals with your toes and the ball of your foot -- as Tame Impala singer-guitarist Kevin Parker did.

But frankly, we doubt it.

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None of which is to say that the largesse of compositional and instrumental talent on display last night is a prerequisite for writing and performing good music. It is not. 

But the intoxicating effect this sonic and visual demonstration had on its audience -- members of which were presumably better prepared for such brain-altering alchemy than the average person -- was, to say the least, intense. (There are polite cheers and there are mind-blown cheers, and Tame Impala got a giddy, stunned version of the latter.) This should at least cause you to ponder whether the enterprise of making new music is best left to those in whom (we can only surmise) evolution, drugs, and the ennui-inducing wilds of Western Australia have instilled rare ability and imagination.

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For example, the oscilloscope: Last night the big gray box stood atop a table with a small video camera pointing at it. The feed from the camera ran through a projector shining on a screen behind the stage. Parker's guitar signal ran through the scope, shooting wild loops and squiggles behind the band as Parker played and manipulated his pedals, which he did almost constantly. This alone made for a pleasingly entrancing, minimalist visual accompaniment to the music.

But during the "idiocy interlude" (so described on the band's official setlist), Parker played the oscilloscope. With the other members in repose, he proceeded to tweak his Stratocaster and his table of knobs and buttons, disseminating burbles and drips of pure, thick sound (mostly unrecognizable as guitar), which toyed with the green light on the screen behind the stage: A perfect circle appeared, then wiggled into an oval, then split -- the way your cells split -- into two more circles, joined by curlicues. Pedals were pressed, fuzz added, and the round shapes exploded into intangible, shuddering ghosts of green light. We were hearing sound while watching it -- a truly surreal experience.

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Parker solos, oscilloscope, uh, circles
The audience stood silent, rapt by the abstract tone/light show in the darkened room, and then, suddenly back in position, all of Tame Impala fired off the Sabbath-indebted riff that drives "Desire Be, Desire Go," sounding a million times less ambivalent than the song does on the band's mostly excellent debut album, InnerSpeaker. The room blew up. 

If you do make music, we recommend you aim to create this degree of feeling in your audience. If last night was any indication, they will love you for it.

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The oscilloscope-camera setup, while no music was playing.
Critic's Notebook

Wardrobe highlight: Parker's Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles t-shirt.

Single serving: "Solitude Is Bliss" arrived second in the set; its slippery sliding chords and almost-intelligible lyrics (most weren't) withdrew cheers of familiarity from the audience. 

Side dish: Among the Tame Impala's more conventional songs (many are composed more like jazz tunes, with themes and solos/instrumental parts), the impatiently jerking "Remember Me" is this listener's new obsession.

Setlist: See for yourself:

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Cover your bases: Yes, that was Tame Impala's take on Massive Attack's "Angel" near the end -- surprising, melancholic, and immense.

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Seventeen Evergreen
Opener: Seventeen Evergreen, a two-piece live electronics outfit from S.F., shook out tremendous synth bass, flavored it with the stringed version, and then dropped multidimensional drum machine beats underneath. Also, keyboard clouds and 12-string guitar twinkles. Good stuff.

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Seventeen Evergreen
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And no, we shouldn't start a band, either. Even though we kinda want to. Send your snappy retorts to us on Twitter; longer screeds will only fit on our Facebook page, which you should like.

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