Tame Impala Impresses at Music Hall of Williamsburg

August 8th, 2012

Tame Imapala – Music Hall of Williamsburg – August 7, 2012

It’s not often an Australian band plays a one-off gig in New York City with little warning, but if any group could pull off such a maneuver, it’d be Perth’s Tame Impala. Indeed, the sold-out crowd waited in a long line outside Music Hall of Williamsburg last night for a chance to see Tame Impala perform a set full of “How’d they do that?” moments. Opening with “Solitude Is Bliss,” the quintet quickly set the tone with layered compositions giving way to long stretches that balanced between prog-rock orchestration and ecstatic improvisation. Behind the band was projected an old school green CRT oscilloscope that seemed to go in and out of phase with the music, tracing complicated mathematical representations of the music in real time. The result was a juxtaposition of art and math, with heavy Spirographic jams accompanied by twisted, electric-green floral patterns.

With lead singer Kevin Parker fighting a case of laryngitis, the music dominated. Songs like “It’s Not Meant to Be” joined the two guitars at angles both acute and obtuse. These guitar notes oscillated under sinusoidal bass lines. Despite the scientific precision of the music it was anything but cold and calculated. Indeed, every song was an emotional journey, each telling a story with darker moody passages followed by ecstatic, building climaxes. The whole set seemed to follow a similar arc: dozens of musical ideas neatly packed like beautifully ornate Russian nesting dolls, and the crowd responding with awe as each new moment revealed itself.

The set closed with “Half Glass of Wine” from their 2008 self-titled album. The song started with a darker, churning rock and roll, like a melted-wax version of War’s “Low Rider,” and then veered tangentially into a lighter, in-the-vacuum outer-space jam. A single riff went periodic, spawning new ones in its wake until the whole band built to a focused crescendo that would make your most able jam band nod in appreciation until finally righting itself back into the original rock riff. It was an impressive feat and the audience appreciated it fully, demanding an encore. The band returned to oblige with Parker admitting it was their first time ever granting one. They offered up more of the same majesty with “Runway, Houses, Cities, Clouds,” but likely did little to satisfy a crowd that was undoubtedly filled with people tuning their own oscilloscopes to make sure they’re not asking, “How’d they do that?” the next time Tame Impala comes to town. —A. Stein