Concert Reviews

Tame Impala Has Perfected the Art of the Algorithm-Friendly Slow Rave

Tame Impala had an impressive array of lasers at the Mission Ballroom on October 7.
Tame Impala had an impressive array of lasers at the Mission Ballroom on October 7. Kenzie Bruce
You’ve got to hand it to Kevin Parker, the Australian multi-instrumentalist behind the behemoth known as Tame Impala. Parker has honed a brand of stoner dance rock that fits neatly between the high-brow, psychedelic pioneers of old and the most neuron-fraying, dopamine moments of EDM. It’s as if Parker kept the funk section in Pink Floyd’s 23-minute-long song “Echoes,” but then replaced the weird, screaming guitar interlude with a build-up and drop in the vein of Deadmau5.

Party on, dudes.

Like a clipboard-wielding researcher behind a mirror, Parker has studied the field, drawn up a chart outlining the catchiest aspects of multiple music styles, and then mixed it all together over lyrics about love and loneliness that are just vague enough to fit whatever feels his listeners might be feeling.

It’s no wonder that Tame Impala has become the chart-topping, festival-headlining, Spotify-algorithm-dominating phenomenon that it is. The music is brilliantly intersectional.

Translate that to the stage, and the Tame Impala experience can best be described as a slow rave.

That's what Tame Impala brought to the Mission Ballroom on Monday, October 7, the first of two sold-out concerts there. Monday’s show, Tame Impala’s first in Denver since playing Red Rocks in 2016, included all the lights, lasers, tripped-out videos, confetti and massive sound effects that were used in the band’s headline sets at outdoors festivals this year, including at Coachella, except that they were all packed into the Mission Ballroom. The result was stimuli-overload, which is just what the audience — half dressed-down ravers and half bearded indica smokers who had just risen from the couch — wanted. It was a dance party at 80 BPM, somewhere between MDMA and Kosher Kush. And with the Mission Ballroom’s state-of-the-art acoustics and sound system, you were able to hear everything. The sound at the new venue really is incredible. Even Parker noticed.

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Confetti galore.
Kenzie Bruce
“Red Rocks is great and everything, but I’m having twice as much fun here,” he said at one point. “This is a new place, right? They just opened it?”

The crowd cheered.

“Fuck, yeah,” Parker said. “There’s just something about us all caked in together, all sweaty and goop, you know? But here’s the thing. Red Rocks has twice as many people in there, which means that each one of you needs to make twice as much fucking racket. You need to make the craziness of two people, but I know you can do it, guys, because you’re fucking Denver.”

Truth be told, it was not nearly as sweaty and goopy as I expected. Despite the show being sold out, the crowd wasn’t packed in that tightly. There was plenty of space.

This was something I’d been wondering about since the concert’s ticketing snafu in August. When AEG released tickets for Tame Impala’s October 7 show, they sold out immediately, and hundreds of tickets found their way onto StubHub and other secondary market sites within minutes of the sale ending.

As a result, some despondent concert-goers ended up paying over $120 on secondary sites, fearing they’d miss out on Tame Impala. Legitimate fans who couldn’t get their hands on tickets were so pissed that AEG responded by canceling hundreds of tickets bought by scalpers and selling them again at a later date to — maybe, who knows? — actual fans.

But it turns out that the demand may have been overblown. Right before Monday’s show, secondary market tickets could be found for $15 to $20 over face value, so this wasn’t a ticketing scandal on the level of Tom Petty or the Gorillaz, as we've seen during the past few years at Red Rocks.

Even so, at Monday's sold-out show, I was pleased with the audience cap at the Mission Ballroom. When I saw Tame Impala at Red Rocks the last time the band played in Denver in 2016, that show was way oversold. I’d never seen so many people in the amphitheater, to the extent that there simply wasn’t enough room on the benches, and people were forced to fill the stairs, planters or whatever nook they could find to catch a glimpse of the stage. Not so at the Mission Ballroom.

One interesting comparison between Tame Impala's 2016 show and Monday’s performance, though, was that the set list hadn’t really changed at all. Sure, Parker played his two new singles, “Borderline” and “Patience,” but the show still relied heavily on the 2016 album Currents, including concert opener “Let It Happen” and an encore of “The Less I Know the Better” and "Same Person, Same Old Mistakes."

While many hoped for a new album this year, Parker told the New York Times that he’s taking his time in the studio. Even so, fans on Monday appeared to have no qualms about slow-raving to the existing Tame Impala catalogue. If anything, Parker took his 2016 shows and just added a shit-ton more lasers and confetti, which did turn the songs that used them, including “Elephant” and “Eventually,” into spectacle.

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Altin Gun at the Mission Ballroom.
Chris Walker
Opener Altin Gün, a Turkish psychedelic rock band from Amsterdam, was also an excellent addition. With funky bass lines, warbling Turkish singing, and twanging string instruments from Anatolia, Altin Gün came out with a bang on its first American tour, and was a fun, danceable and trippy way to begin Tame Impala's show.

“You may be wondering what we’re saying,” said the band’s female lead singer, Merve. “Well it’s about love.”

The two bands also play another sold-out show tonight, October 8, at the Mission Ballroom, ready to put on another slow rave and blast a few more cannons of confetti. Bring your slow-dancing shoes. 
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Chris Walker is a freelancer and former staff writer at Westword. Before moving to the Mile High City he spent two years bicycling across Eurasia, during which he wrote feature stories for VICE, NPR, Forbes, and The Atlantic. Read more of Chris's feature work and view his portfolio here.
Contact: Chris Walker