Rock the Garden 2015 is still a month away, and it looks as if we already have a shoo-in for the 2016 lineup: Tame Impala. The synth-laden psychedelic Australian rock band’s latest stop at First Avenue on Wednesday drew the kind of pre-show buzz -- and ticket demand, and 89.3 the Current-attuned audience -- that makes an RTG stop the next logical step up on the local booking ladder. It also played a more ambitiously scaled, well-paced and sonically resplendent 90-minute set that will solidify its reputation as a worthy festival act.
If the RTG prediction proves true, the Australian band would make up for MGMT's notoriously space-headed 2010 headlining set at the Walker Art Center shindig. Wednesday’s First Ave gig had a lot of similarly wigged-out electro-whir tunes and extended jams but with way more chemistry and energy involved. The group’s falsetto-favoring mastermind Kevin Parker proved to be a charismatic, likable ringleader, too (despite his dopey comment that Minneapolis is “one of the coolest-sounding names of any city”).
Currently out on the U.S. highways playing clubs between festival gigs, Parker’s Perth-bred group previewed a handful of tunes off their new record due in July. The seven-minute mind-bender “Let It Happen” -- the first track to go public off the new record -- opened the show following a few minutes of what amounted to instrumental flirtation. As its repetitive groove sunk in and its layered organ and falsetto harmonies were fleshed out, “Let It Happen” took on a “Baby You’re a Rich Man”-like Beatles-y sonic-gold quality. The next song, “Mind Mischief,” sort of took a reverse route, starting out rocky and taut but getting mellower and hazier as it rolled on.
Bathed in a colorful, swirly, projected light show throughout the set, Tame Impala proved to be one band that actually excels at jamming. Six songs into the show, things got really interesting when Parker & Co. tacked on a few extra minutes of jittery, wavy noise in “Be Above It.” By contrast, they followed that lofty jam with one of Parker’s most unadorned, overtly poppy songs to date, “Disciples.” Another new one, it demonstrated how his is one of the most tolerable and effective falsetto voices in indie-rock (and that’s with the acknowledgement there are way too many falsetto voices currently employed in indie-rock).
Hearing it live, “Disciples” also quite clearly stood out as a contender to become TI’s biggest radio hit to date. As for the radio hits the lads have already landed, they threw in the hard-grooving “Elephant” toward the beginning of the set for an early crowd-pleaser and saved the Lennon-dreamy “Feels Like We Only Go Backwards” for the encore.
Once again, though, the encore highlight proved to be the jammiest number, “Nothing That Has Happened So Far Has Been Anything We Could Control,” which started out sounding like a Bee Gees tune and evolved into a Stone Roses-like crescendoing outro. At least in as concise and carefully chosen a manner as it demonstrated with Wednesday's improvised grooves, Tame Imapala is one band that’s more than welcome to kick out the jams.