Tame Impala at First Avenue, 3/4/13

Categories: Last Night
Photo by Erik Hess
Tame Impala
With the Growl
First Avenue, Minneapolis
Monday, March 3, 2013

There was one song last night when it truly felt like Tame Impala's set in the Mainroom went places. It was during "Glass Half Full of Wine," the big finale of the main set, and a song built around a gnarly, scuzzy-sounding riff. Halfway through, Kevin Parker and his band dropped into an interlude that was nothing short of mesmerizing, the pickups of his Rickenbacker beeped and plunked like a bomb that was about to go off. The music hurtled through space, slowly ratcheting up the tension, until suddenly the main riff came crashing back in. It was a moment that felt like an invigorating punch to the face.

But for most of the rest of the night, the Perth buzz band's set felt weighed down by its own expertise -- music, perfectly executed, that strove to sound over-sized, but without many actual songs to back it all up.

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Slideshow: Tame Impala at First Avenue, 3/4/13
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The praise for Tame Impala's latest album, Lonerism, has been nearly unanimous since its release last fall. Boosted by a 9.0 review from Pitchfork -- the sort of thing that's basically a coronation for greatness, or at least relevance, these days -- plus the fact that the album topped both NME and Rolling Stone's year-end lists, it felt like Parker's group was on the crest of a wave as it returned to Minneapolis for the first time in over two years. Certainly, judging by social media, the night seemed to be a preordained epic.

Photos by Erik Hess
For anyone eager to hear the band play its songs exactly the way they sound on record, there was little to be disappointed about -- a fact that's no mean feat given how painstakingly produced they are in the studio. Parker, who had a tangle of pedals and cables strewn out before him onstage, hopped around barefoot as he unleashed an almost-constant onslaught of phasers and delays on the crowd.

In fact, for the first half of the show, Parker seemed so wrapped up in his own process that he hardly seemed to take notice of anyone else. That the opening mantra was "Solitude Is Bliss" almost seemed a little too appropriate, and it set the tone; it was almost as though Parker was playing for himself. Most of the time, the singer simply looked down at his guitar while he played, usually only breaking out of his repose to turn around and face the rest of the band, back turned to the rest of the room.

The bigger problem, though, was that the songs weren't really that interesting -- technically impressive, yes, but not necessarily interesting. Of course, it would be an oversimplification to say merely that the songs sounded too much alike. More specifically, Parker's songwriting, often anchored in sludgy riffs, tends to march along in monolithic lockstep, as though building toward some grand payoff. (Forget the Beatles comparisons; this stuff aims to be stadium rock.) But more often than not -- take, to name a song from early in the night, "Music to Walk Home By," interjected with a keyboard solo that was futuristic in the most unimaginative sense -- what passes for dynamics is little more than a pair of alternating, two-chord riffs, dressed up with special effects.

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