Thursday 11th February 2016
It’s taken 6 years for Kevin Parker to amass enough disciples to fill out arenas, but that time has come, and it feels right. It may have been unimaginable back in the early days of scruffy, Cream-influenced Tame Impala. But as it turns out, Parker wears the emperor’s clothes well. He’s not the only one wearing them—the number of Kevin Parker lookalikes packed into the Manchester Arena made me feel like I was tripping out before the band had even played ‘Apocalypse Dreams’. Then the real Kevin Parker stood up and kicked into ‘Let It Happen’ and reminded us that while many of his fans may resemble him, no one quite possesses his strange presence. Like a feline creature, Parker meekly tip toes around barefoot, vacuum-packed into his jeans, staring at the floor like a psychiatric patient unwittingly gifted with musical genius.
But despite the shy mannerisms, Parker has clearly grown into his massive success, handling the enormous crowd with some admirably professional “You want one more? I can’t hear you!” kind of stage banter. It’s symbolic that despite having expressed discomfort about their biggest hit, ‘Elephant’, the band seem to have reworked the song into their set as a Black Sabbath-esque chugger. Admittedly, the band’s unease about ‘Elephant’ is understandable when you see the reaction it gets: the sight of 5,000 people sloshing pints about in one hand and yelling: “FEELS LIKE AN ELEPHANT SHAKING ITS BIG GREY TRUNK FOR THE HELL OF IT” is about as psychedelic as the Ten O’Clock News.
Still, I’m not sure Tame Impala are really trying to open the doors of perception so much as ringing the doorbell repeatedly. There isn’t a lot of food for thought in the long-term, but in the short-term a Tame Impala show is a totally dazzling experience, with the band building you up to humungous climaxes, and you surrendering your erogenous zones to melody.
The last two albums were definitely more suited to the mega crescendos and steep drops that Tame Impala enjoy pulling off live, but the highlight of the set was an Innerspeaker moment. Specifically, it was the long, meandering intro to ‘Why Won’t You Make Up Your Mind?’, which started off as Parker fiddling on his guitar—the reverberations of which were translated into vibrating lines on the projector, and built up a tonne of momentum until the crispest of drum intros.
Finally, for those concerned about Tame Impala’s transformation into something less mind-expanding and more wad-expanding: yes, they’re playing huge arena gigs now, and yes, the crowd looked like ant people from where I sat. But even from way up in the highest tier, I could see that those ant people were dutifully lighting ceremonious joints. Either that or they were holding their lighters in the air. I really hope they were lighting joints.