There was something in the air tonight: the whiff of dope. There were also beards, beatific smiles and a magnificent acid-rock wig-out at the end. A time traveller from the Age of Aquarius would have found a certain reassuring familiarity in this show by the latest indie buzz band – though our hippy visitor would have been amazed at the strange glowing things in people’s hands. They didn’t have smartphones back in ’69.
On stage Kevin Parker was the focal point, surrounded by four other young men. Parker is Tame Impala’s mainman, the band’s omphalos, its fons et origo … Sorry, got carried away there: must be the whiff of dope. Where was I? Oh yes: Tame Impala is Parker’s project; he writes the songs in his bedroom in Perth, Australia before recording them with US psych-rock veteran Dave Fridmann (Mercury Rev, Flaming Lips).
His four fellow psychonauts at Brixton Academy were his touring band, drawn from members of Perth’s indie scene. The set opened with the first track from the new Tame Impala album Lonerism, a critical hit that has made Parker’s name outside his homeland, charting in the UK and the US. He professed amazement to be playing the 5,000-capacity venue; a vibrant show found him acclimatising rapidly.
Songs were swaddled by layers of distorted guitars. Flanging created trippy echoes while feedback added a fuzzy drone. Parker and another guitarist concentrated on texture; they didn’t showboat in the grand Hendrix manner. A keyboardist played spacey, drawn-out chords. Parker’s fey singing floated above the music; lyrics came from an introverted, headphone-wearing zone, psychedelia without ambitions to change the world: “Solitude Is Bliss”, “Music to Walk Home By”.
Yet there was more to the music than hazy reverie. Songs bustled along to forceful drumming. “Solitude Is Bliss” was set to addictively catchy riffs while “Elephant” belied whimsical Syd Barrett-style sentiments with a brutal glam-rock stomp. The massive guitar sound that erupted in “Music to Walk Home By” had the same lapel-grabbing effect as the solo from Dinosaur Jr’s generation-X slacker anthem “Freak Scene”.
A basic light show and crude computerised visuals suggested that Tame Impala’s touring budget hasn’t caught up with Lonerism’s success. But the cut-price set-up added to the charm. And the finale – “Half Full Glass of Wine”, a boogying krautrock monster of a song – needed no extra adornment. It was, to use a phrase from long ago, far-out.