Killing them softly

Music for loners: Frontman Kevin Parker and crew were sick for their Asheville appearance, but it didn’t show.
Music for loners: Frontman Kevin Parker and crew were sick for their Asheville appearance, but it didn’t show.

The way the Friday, Feb. 22 Tame Impala show (at The Orange Peel) opened (at least from my vantage point) was with a halo of green-gold light exploding just behind the head of guitarist Dominic Simper, while frontman Kevin Parker, all hair and sinew, writhed gently through the intro. As if the band knew they were about to slay with their huge sound. But wanted to be benevolent about it.

Not in a "this will hurt us more than it hurts you" way, but in a "killing me softly" way. In the sense that the highest compliment afforded to a band these days is that they "killed it," and Tame Impala's particular brand of murder entailed sonic sweeps and washes and waves that thundered menacingly but fell in blankets of dreams.

Parker's effervescent falsetto sparkled among the psychedelic layers of "Apocalypse Dreams." The song felt almost too epic for so early in the set but, it turns out, the band has been playing the same set for the duration of this leg of the tour. Which could be a bad thing, if it felt stale, but there was nothing in the evening that read as tired or played out. If anything, the band could have played less. Not that anyone wants that, but they could have held back and still been every bit as memorable.

The show included several extended outros and jams, like on "It Is Not Meant To Be.” That song, on recording, trips and shimmies along looped guitar parts and echoey vocals. Live, its lava-lamp-bubbling and shape-shifting took on a late '60s mien. Which is a good thing. Too often, modern psychedelic rock devolves into noodly jam. Tame Impala's sound — even live (which is, for this band, a completely different take on the songs that in the studio) — is rooted equally in modern lo-fi rock and retro psychedelia (without the cultural preciousness).

"Solitude Is Bliss" galloped and pulsed its way to a feedback-heavy conclusion; "Endors Toi" reworked lounge-y, '70s motifs, shot through with effects. And then "Music to Walk Home By" slowed to maximize its spacey, sci-fi warble. A cannonade of guitar parts met an organ melody so sublime it seemed to float.

At this point in the evening we learned that everyone in the band had been sick — not least Parker — since their New York shows. "A terrible illness," they called it, and then continued to play like they had just awoken, refreshed, from naps on clouds and rounds of B-12 injections. Tame Impala's current single, "Elephant," received an especially energetic treatment, reverberating into the room on huge, syncopated rhythms and a roar of guitar and bass. The band, bathed in gold light with shocks of purple, looked almost too slender and spare to craft such a momentous sound. But they did. Of course they did. Hair spilling over cheekbones, bodies folded over instruments like elegant birds.

If "Elephant" crushed in its assault, the moodier "Why Won't You Make Up Your Mind?" rocked more profoundly. Distortion lent a buzz to the song's lower register. From there, the band eased into the soulful groove of "Feels Like We Only Go Backwards." That song, Tame Impala's slow-dance, dripped with longing. A crowd surfer rode a tide of hands to the slowed, slinky beat.

The heart-wrench of "Feels Like We Only Go Backwards," paired with dance-beat-meets-heavy-soul of "Be Above It" beg the question, if Parker can write and compose songs of this complexity and emotional refinement now, just in his mid-’20s, what will he be doing two decades from now? Because really, much of what artists achieve in long-term careers is a spiraling in on themes and understandings. A refining of their medium, their vision and their own humanism. It's possible that the psychedelic canvas of Tame Impala lends itself to more varied (and, perhaps, prematurely complex) interpretation than the average rock song. The layers and textures, the whisper tracks and the constant warm rinse of distortion spin the sound like a kaleidoscope. But still. There's a lot going on here, and Parker is just getting started.

The evening ended with the bluesy pummel of "Half Glass Full of Wine"— the feedback, the slow-and-dirty guitar work and the slow build that built and built until a not-quite-angry but totally grungy solo broke with the relief of a storm after a day of barometric oppression. And then, after a short wait, the band returned to a stage bathed in purple light, performing "Nothing That Has Happened So Far Has Been Anything We Could Control" for an encore. It's a towering song, with the huge drums, the lyrics buried under layers of effects and the melodies swirling in sonic eddies. And, considering the show, a perfect end to the evening.

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About Alli Marshall
Alli Marshall is the arts writer and editor at Mountain Xpress. She's lived in Asheville for more than 20 years and loves live music, visual art, fiction and friendly dogs.

One thought on “Killing them softly

  1. Jason

    I don’t see why a review for a sold out show at the Orange Peel by an out of town band warrants a full page review in print. Online, okay, but I feel that our “local arts” paper should review things that are actually local, and thus beneficial to both local performers and audiences.

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