Tame Impala at the Bluebird, 12/4/10

With Achille Lauro
12.04.10 | Bluebird Theater
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Stardeath and the White Dwarfs were originally slated to be part of this bill but couldn't make it, so at the last minute, local band Achille Lauro was added, which is just as well, because that band shares a bit of the same experimental pop aesthetic as Stardeath. Drawing from its latest release, Indiscretions, Achille Lauro played a set that was more heavy on its R&B-inflected pop than some of its more atmospheric songs. What the band did play was music that was part funk and part some kind of jazz mutant reggae. Slapback delays tastefully smoothed out some of the guitar work while giving it a rapid quiver.

Achille Lauro's rhythm section of John Evans and Ben Mossman made some of the songs sound like a real update on "Atomic Dog"-era George Clinton, especially on "Unicorns and Consent." Before playing the latter, Matt Close told us that they had tried to write a rap song, that it had gone wrong, but that it kind of worked out anyway. Funny guy -- it's one of the band's best songs.

In the middle of the set, Close and Luke Mossman's guitar work really came together on a new song that sounded like Roxy Music if it had come up after the advent of hip-hop. Evans even used some popping and slapping on the bass in a way that sounded good instead of like some eye-roll-worthy white guy funk act. Achille Lauro probably isn't for everyone, but they got some people in front jumping and dancing, some of whom had never heard them before.

The four-piece Tame Impala came on stage looking as though they'd just come off a school bus from the mid-1970s -- except that Kevin Parker never could have had a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles T-shirt back then. Opening with "It Is Not Meant to Be," Tame Impala sounded like its members had been listening to a bit of Deerhunter lately, with the washy guitar and deeply catchy melodies, but at the same time, there was something unmistakably '70s hard rock undergirding the songwriting.

Something about each song made it seems like equal parts psychedelia and power pop, with a hint of '70s art rock. At points, Parker's voice was reminiscent of Greg Lake's, and at least one song was not unlike something Sweet might have done. "Desire Be Desire Go" at first sounded a lot like Hawkwind gone garage rock, but when the band entered into a lengthy instrumental section, it sounded like a jammier, though not self-indulgent, Led Zeppelin.

If nothing else, Tame Impala played with a confidence and self-possession that you don't often see in young bands. All the same, this set seemed all over the place at times, in terms of what the band tried to accomplish in its songwriting. It wasn't as cohesive as it might have been. This is not necessarily a bad problem to have, as it points to the great potential that exists between these four guys.

At one point in the set, the guys said they were going to play a cover they haven't performed for a long time, and then they went into "Angel," by Massive Attack. It was a high point of the set and a sure sign of the talent behind the playing, because there were no sequencers or synths used, and Tame Impala still pulled it off credibly while also making the song its own.

Musically, the best parts of the Impala set were the instrumental interludes where the band explored sounds and soundscaping in a way that didn't require a specific song structure. Experimenting with noise and bending and warping tones, Tame Impala revealed a completely different side of its sonic art between songs.

The show ended with a medley that included "Half Full Glass of Wine." There was much enthusiasm in the air. Nearly the entire front area of the stage was filled with people dancing and jumping up and down and otherwise emoting throughout, and the band thanked everyone for being such a great audience.

As the band filtered off stage, Wayne Coyne of the Flaming Lips made a surprise appearance and waved to the audience once people started spotting him off to the side. Maybe he'd been here because his nephew's band was supposed to play and he's a Tame Impala fan, but he sure did take out time to snap pictures with fans.

CRITIC'S NOTEBOOK Personal Bias: I like Tame Impala's album Innerspeaker. Random Detail: Ran into Cole Rudy of Wetlands and Varlet. By the Way: If the crowd is into a show, that matters more for the band and for the people there than the opinion of an "informed" music journalist.

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