How does a live band create atmosphere that feels real? You can add as many smoke machines, light effects and visuals as you want, but it takes a special kind of act to transport its audience to a slightly different, slightly off reality. Tame Impala know this better than most bands, and their trick is quite simple: They let their music handle it. Anyone who has heard the band’s recorded catalog can appreciate just how intoxicating the Australian outfit’s music is, and hearing it live is only an extension of that. At Saturday night’s Webster Hall show, Kevin Parker and co. took a step back from themselves, filling their set with only minimal banter and almost negative stage presence. There were no power slides or crotch grabs here.
So if the band was doing its best to lend the music center stage, how did it hold up? That is a question that really can only be answered by looking at the set’s strongest segment: Halfway through the regular part of the set, the band kicked into “Elephant,” the first single from album of the year contender Lonerism. The Queens Of The Stone Age-inspired strut of its drums shook the floorboards of the venue in combination with the crowd stomping in rhythm. Parker’s Lennon-esque voice may have suffered a bit from being behind the instruments, but it’s mostly irrelevant when the music is so good. This segued into “Feels Like We Only Go Backwards,” which recently had a rather trippy video released. Live, the song kept its hallucinatory qualities while adding a bit more poppies to what is already Lonerism’s poppiest song. Finally, the trio of excellence ended with “Alter Ego,” off of the band’s first release, 2010’s Innerspeaker, which is both woozy and rocking, a switch that this band can flick on and off with dexterity.
The rest of the set wasn’t a disappointment compared to those three; in fact, some of the more thrilling moments came later. The Innerspeaker double-whammy of “Why Won’t You Make Up Your Mind?” and “Desire Be Desire Go” plowing through layers of haze (and yes, marijuana smoke) to make swayers out of everyone. The pre-encore finale of “Apocalypse Dream” felt like a cruel joke; how does a band hold off on a six-minute gem until the crowd is feeling the exhaustion of an hour of music? Not that anyone was complaining, but what should have been more of a dance track turned into the night’s biggest communal sigh. Here is where Parker took the opportunity to show that he is a true star: hitting every high note with ease, the diminutive Australian then dropped to his knees for a power solo that recalled classic rock’s heyday better than any band now save maybe Titus Andronicus.
The band took a short reprieve before coming out to an extended version of “Half Full Glass Of Wine,” off of its self-titled EP. This was a nod and a wink to old fans, who frankly lost their shit. And then, it was over, and that same haze that had transported the audience now hung on the dimly lit room, a reminder of the world that they had just returned from. Saturday night awaited, on an Earth slightly different from what had been before.