Tame Impala’s last visit to Milwaukee was for a very-sold-out performance at Turner Hall just over two years ago. The band was riding high on widespread accolades for its second LP, Lonerism, and as a live unit, Kevin Parker and his accomplices were surprisingly tight and spontaneously creative, given the fact that Parker had played nearly everything on the album himself.
The Grandstand Media press release for the band’s new album, Currents (due July 17th), proclaims, “Typically, initial Tame Impala recordings saw Parker’s vocal hidden beneath a layer of psychedelic fuzz, drenched in reverb, lyrics ambiguous. Currents find’s [sic] Kevin Parker’s voice front and centre, so no bones are made about his intent.” Gee, that…could bode well for the record, but not necessarily for the tour. At the aforementioned Turner Hall show, stripped of Lonerism’s umpteen layers of production haze, Parker’s voice sometimes sounded like a duck with a sinus infection. (Do ducks have sinuses?) He couldn’t hit the high notes and nasally whined his way through most of the set.
Maybe Thursday night’s performance at the Riverside was too early in the tour for Parker to have blown out his vocal cords. Maybe he took some serious voice lessons between tours. Maybe he hired a new sound guy with a better feel for effects with which to augment that voice. Whatever the case, this very unofficial Milwaukee Psych Fest pre-party wasn’t marred by bad singing. If nothing else, the sellout crowd drowned out any bum notes.
The show opened with a brand new tune called “Let It Happen,” a meandering, trance-y jam that didn’t exactly set the tone for the show, but was a good indication of what to expect from the new album: less rock, more beats. As indicated by advance single “‘Cause I’m A Man,” Impala isn’t content to be pigeonholed into psych-rock. The other new song the band played was “Eventually,” a chillwave-y slow jam that feeds into Parker’s admitted sugary-pop tendencies. If there are rockers in store when the album finally appears, he’s keeping those cards face down.
There was no shortage of vintage Impala at the show, though. “Be Above It” got extended with a lengthy zone-out danceathon outro, and similar to the last tour, “Elephant” featured an additional post-punk-like jazz workout section prior to the final coda. “Why Won’t You Make Up Your Mind” was another highlight; it faded in with guitar and keyboard pulses, eventually spiraling into a frenzy of electric noise and crashing into a fake-out ending before a massive re-ignition. Most of the tunes were basically arranged the same as they appeared on the previous tours, and the band wasn’t striving for any significant improvisation, but the small additions and alterations kept things feeling fresh.
Parker’s voice did end up failing him in the end. The impossibly high falsetto parts in the encore of “Nothing That Has Happened So Far Has Been Anything We Could Control” proved too much for him, but kudos to him for continuing to play his best song even if he can’t quite nail all the notes. (Who could?!) It was a magnificent finale. It’s hard to say what the live band will morph into after this between-albums phase, but even if Parker’s hell-bent for bubblegum, he’ll probably find a way to make it interesting live.