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all words: Phil Runco
all photos: Julian Vu

Venerable rock critic Mark Richardson fielded an innocuous question on his blog the other day: “Do you go to shows/concerts often?”  Richardson replied: “Not really… I feel a little alone in this as far as people in my field, but very few of my music-related epiphanies have happened in a live setting. I have never been especially drawn to the conventions of a rock show—the stage, the ‘play one song, pause, tune, play another song’ structure, the encores … I’ve seen plenty of great shows in my life and a few really stand out.”

It’s not exactly a profound thought – just a personal preference – but it’s one I found myself returning to Friday night at the Black Cat during performances by Australian psych rockers Tame Impala and its opener, early 90s indiephiles Yuck.

Tame ImpalaTame Impala

Tame Impala

The two turned out tight, no frills sets, with both bands laser-focused on faithfully recreating the sonics and structures of their respective debuts.  Little indulgence was given to stage movement or banter, and what little did come from Tame Impala’s Kevin Parker was hard to decipher through his mic’s vocal effects.  (His thick Aussie mumble didn’t help).  And while Tame Impala’s trippy ambiance would seem ideal for a wash of lights and colors, instead we got some squiggly patterns – mimicking the shifts in the music –projected against a pull-down screen.

In other words, it was an experience most could match at home with quality headphones, Windows Media visualizer, and maybe a couple of joints.  Which isn’t to say the concert was disappointing per se – the source material is consistently pretty good – but those who came in with at least partially solidified opinions on Yuck or Tame Impala probably left feeling pretty much the same way.

It was not the kind of the night to inspire epiphanies.

Tame Impala

Tame Impala

Tame Impala

 

Yuck came out looking like the biggest group of indoor kids this side of “Wet Hot American Summer”.  With Art Garfunkel hair and slightly hunched back, gaunt frontman Daniel Blumberg will not be gracing the cover of Tiger Beat anytime soon. An afroed round-mound-of-pound, drummer Jonny Rogoff looked the kind of character that only exists in Guy Ritchie films.  (And was thus particularly easy to spot roaming the venue’s floor during Tame Impala.)

The band is young – and certainly looks it – but it pulls off its paean to ‘90s college radio efficiently.  It frontloaded its set with Yuck’s brisker songs (“The Wall”, “Get Away”, “Holing Out”), leaving the back half to drag with less compelling material, but, on the whole, the music was as urgent as you could hope.

Ultimately, I find it a hard to get excited about Yuck.  The band hits all the right fuzzy marks of golden-age indie rock (Dinosaur Jr., Built to Spill, Pavement), but it does so with none of the élan.  It lacks the enthusiasm that carries, say, Smith Westerns’ T. Rex impression.

Plus, Dinosaur Jr. and Built to Spill are still making good records, making me wonder if this is a nostalgic void that even needs filling.

YuckYuckYuck

 

Tame Impala cuts from a broader swath. The band whips up thick psychedelic ambiance that nods towards 1967 –Cream, the Seeds, Hendrix, etc. – while also taking cues from ‘90s Madchester and grounding its headiness with a overdriving rhythm section.  Its songs aren’t focused on verses and choruses so much as locking into grooves and riding them long enough to find the next.  Songs don’t peak so much as run their course.

On Friday, the foursome worked from more propulsive songs (“Solitude is Bliss”, “Why Don’t You Make Up Your Mind?”) towards spacier material (“The Bold Arrow of Time”, a menacing cover of Massive Attack’s “Covering Angel) over its 70-minute set.   While songs loosened up, the atmospheric textures – however rich – remained consistent.  Compared with its psych rock contemporaries, Tame Impala keeps things fairly conservative, avoiding the sludge of Crystal Antler or Comets on Fire, and never diving completely down the creative rabbit’s hole like Dungen.  As a result, Tame Impala can feel a little too safe, and at worst, homogenous.

Tame Impala

 

Still, it’s remarkable how effortlessly the Tame Impala’s nuances– Parker’s head-in-the-cloud vocals, for example – transfer to the stage along with the band’s overall booming hugeness.  (It helps that drummer Jay Watson and his God-given ability the ride the hell out of a cymbal are so high in the mix and keeping things steady.)

And to its credit, Tame Impala did flout at least one expectation on this night, calling it quits (albeit with advanced warning) without offering up the obligatory encore.

YuckYuck YuckYuckYuckTame ImpalaYuck

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