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The giant green oscilloscope projected behind it and a keyboardist’s knee-length white jacket might have suggested a laboratory of sound, but there was nothing sterile or scientific about the band Tame Impala‘s hazy, dazy set Tuesday night at Radio City Music Hall. Though certain attendees were likely under the influence of mind-altering substances of all chemical makeups — hallucinogens were almost redundant given the group’s light show — the Aussie psych-rockers’ blissed-out performance was wholly organic, no formulation required.
The audience at the sold-out show seemed, by and large, like it would rather be in a club than in this luxe room, whose seats went unused and served only to keep listeners from, as the new song “The Moment” repeatedly exults, “getting closer” to the band. “You’re so far away. Holy moly,” bandleader Kevin Parker lamented as he gazed into the balcony. (Those more interested in proximity than in sound quality could have opted for the following night’s Terminal 5 set.) But listeners were well behaved, with the exception of the occasional puff of smoke, respecting a venue that had Parker in awe — he hadn’t been very impressed with the group’s booking at Radio City, he told the crowd, “until I f—king saw the place.”
As is their wont, the five-piece took new material Parker had recorded and produced by himself (on this year’s Currents, he mixed it all as well) and translated those meticulous productions into a more monolithic wall of sound. Fizzy synths and guitars washed forth as Parker’s high, lonely-teenager vocals sank back in the mix, almost but not quite too obscured to be appreciated. In person, a distinct air of friendly openness is the main thing preventing the band’s densely atmospheric approach from being mistaken for shoegaze.
Listeners unfamiliar with the original recordings might have found these renditions monotonous at times, chugging forward and breaking pace only rarely — as when the set standout “Elephant” took a two- or three-second detour into weird disco before collapsing in a faux-screwup; or when Parker held the stage alone, soloing on a guitar whose overtones were visualized by that giant oscilloscope.
Homogenized sounds or no, any possibility of boredom was wiped out by the show’s entrancing visual component, full of colorful abstraction and hypnotic patterns. On “Eventually,” Spirograph-like drawings gave way to an expanding set of concentric circles whose Looney Tunes “That’s all Folks!” design echoed the Music Hall’s famous architecture. During the aptly named “Mind Mischief,” from 2012’s Lonerism, overlapping videos looked like they might have been generated by Google’s freakazoid Deep Dream neural network. Other videos conjured druggy hallucinations of a more abstract geometrical sort, or looked like the most beautiful analog video glitches ever to escape a VHS dubbing bay.
The video backdrop was augmented by an octet of LED projectors mounted behind the band, which sometimes sprayed the screen with synchronized color and sometimes assaulted the audience head-on. A placard in the lobby warned of strobe effects, but at a couple of moments near the set’s end, the light show seemed capable of triggering seizures not only for the epileptics in the crowd but for unimpaired viewers as well.
After standing in place the whole set, Parker got active during an encore that saw him climb out onto the theater’s siding. The crowd rewarded him with the show’s only sing-along moment, perhaps having been hypnotized by an hour-and-a-half of mind-bending audio-visual overdrive.
Let It Happen
Why Won’t They Talk to Me?
It Is Not Meant to Be
The Less I Know the Better
Why Won’t You Make Up Your Mind?
‘Cause I’m a Man
Feels Like We Only Go Backwards
Nothing That Has Happened So Far Has Been Anything We Could Control
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Portia de Rossi
James Gordon Meek