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October 15, 2013

At Riviera, Impala can't be tamed

Tame Impala, the recording project of Kevin Parker, sold out the Riviera Theater last Thursday night, marking its second sold-out show in Chicago during this year alone. When the psychedelic rockers were here in March, they played at the Vic Theatre, a venue about half the size of the Riviera. Thankfully, while the audience was bigger this time around, the band’s trademark sound was still present, making for an evening of good vibes both on stage and in the audience.

While four other musicians join Parker during his live performances as Tame Impala, the vast majority of the music on the band’s records has been his alone. This didn’t stop the band from having great rapport—Parker didn’t dominate the stage in the slightest. He joked with the audience, commenting that he was glad the people in the balcony were standing (apparently they usually don’t). Most of the time, though, the band barely moved as it worked through the majority of its latest record, Lonerism, along with a few tracks from Innerspeaker and the EP Tame Impala.

The visuals displayed behind the band were fitting, albeit a little lo-fi. Two projectors cast a set of intertwining green shapes that modulated in time with the music onto a screen behind the band. These images, which recall the iTunes visualizer, are not the type of thing you usually see from a band as popular as Tame Impala. The night had a decidedly no-frills approach to it, something that was refreshing to see.

Tame Impala’s live show is all about the music, and it sounded as great on as it does on their records. On record, the songs are expansive, and at the Riviera they had a chance to float around the room and bounce off the venue’s unique textures. The band’s sound is perhaps most famous for the way that it recalls the music of the ’60s and ’70s. The makeup of the crowd reflected this: There were more middle-aged men than at any show I’ve been to in recent memory. For most of the night, the crowd was tame as the band’s laid-back groove; however, several tracks really lit up the group. “Feels Like We Only Go Backwards” spurned audience members to sing along as they danced in time to the band’s most recent single.

Tame Impala’s stop in Chicago comes in the middle of a short tour organized around the band’s appearance at the two weekends of the Austin City Limits Music Festival. The first four dates of this mini-tour had them performing alongside fellow psychedelic rockers The Flaming Lips—a treat that Chicago was unfortunately not privileged to.

Tame Impala has seen notable critical and, increasingly, commercial success behind Lonerism, especially in the band’s native Australia: The album was featured prominently in many critics’ polls for the best albums of 2012; it topped the lists of Filter and NME magazines, and also performed admirably in Pitchfork and the Chicago Sun-Times.

If its current successes are to be believed, Tame Impala will be back in Chicago before long, and might play an even bigger venue next time. With the ability to capture the attention of increasingly large crowds using a live setup that is little more than the bare essentials, the band emphasizes that it is here to stay.

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