“Mild and breezy” aren’t usually positive descriptors of a rock concert, but they were good weather-vane indicators of the cool vibes Tuesday night outside Surly Brewing for the first of two sold-out shows by Australian band Tame Impala.
It was hardly the boutique desert-hotel poolside setting that Tame Impala’s casually psychedelic and danceable music seems made for, but the large, flat, workable space next to Minneapolis’ biggest brewery did make for an appropriately cozy and laid-back concert, matched perfectly by the pristine and even a tad cool summer weather.
The outdoor site proved useful in other hippie-dippie ways, too. Let’s just say that for once, the most prominent smell outside the Surly complex wasn’t the hops inside the giant kettles, but a sister plant to hops.
This show was a long time brewing, too. Lanky, bearded, mad-wizardly but ceaselessly affable frontman Kevin Parker and his trendy band haven’t played in town since well before they were so trendy, when a sold-out 2015 appearance at First Avenue seemed like a big deal. Now they're playing two 6,000-person performances in Minneapolis ahead of a headlining set Friday at the Lollapalooza megafest in Chicago.
Local music scenester Velvet Negroni earned the warm-up gig for both nights, as well as some tour dates with the Tame crew.
The wild-eyed singer doubly known as Jeremy Nutzman — who has also recorded as Spyder Baybie and is part of the Marijuana Deathsquads/Bon Iver family tree — debuted a new four-piece band and a batch of oddly structured acid-soul songs from his upcoming 4AD album, “Neon Brown,” most of which were lost on the sunset-lazing crowd but subtly enhanced the spacey vibe Tuesday.
A sizable 45-minute gap preceded Tame Impala's sets as it waited for sunset. The lull was all about maximizing the darkness for the group's bright, dazzling stage show — the biggest and most hi-fi production yet at the Surly site, which passed the test with quite literally flying colors.
Parker wasted no time getting to one of the band’s biggest hits, the playful romp “Let It Happen,” which came two songs into the 90-minute set accompanied by a confetti cannon blast and a nice greeting. “It’s so good to be back in Minneapolis,” the singer/guitarist remarked during the zoned-out breakdown part. “What a beautiful day.”
After that initial opening excitement, both the band and the dancers in the crowd settled into a slow but steady string of lightly bobbing tunes, songs so unaggressive they make Bon Iver sound like metal, but with an impressively layered sonic panache. The long-awaited new single “Patience,” in particular, exemplified the rich, Bee Gees-style, smooth-harmony vocals that Parker openly lifts from his fellow Aussie stars.
Turns out, Parker's crew was waiting for the sun to set further. Once it got dark, they kicked things up 11 notches with the darker-tinged, heavy-lumbering rocker “Elephant” and ultra-catchy “Feels Like We Only Go Backwards,” two of their biggest and most up-tempo fan faves. That’s when their impressive stage production kicked in, with twisty lasers, a giant video backdrop and as many flashing and spinning lights as a whole block of the Las Vegas Strip.
“Are you ready for this one?” Parker asked before “Elephant,” as if he was about to launch into “Welcome to the Jungle.” The music was far from that kind of visceral weightlifting anthem — more like a cardio yoga class — but the light show wowed the crowd and did a lot of the heavy lifting from there on out.
While the rest of the band got lost in the visual haze (it could’ve been Velvet Negroni’s crew for all the fans knew), Parker’s strength and charms came through loud and clear; as loud as falsetto singing gets, anyway, like when he had the crowd swaying and swooning in unison to the ultra-sweet and poppy “Eventually."
Sometimes Parker's tender style turned a little too precious and mushy, as in the yacht-rock-like “Yes I’m Changing.” But all the show's other elements — including the Mother Natured ones — added up beautifully in the end, especially during the extra-wigged-out, lit-up version of the cosmic groover “The Less I Know the Better.” And since he's staying put for a rare two-night stand, the Tame maestro should be even more laid-back and in his proper zone Wednesday.