”Fluctuations are aching my soul / Expectation is taking its toll”.
This is a piece about expectations.
Seeing a band you like, at the peak of their success, performing in an institutional venue involves a great deal of expectations. First, if you are willing to pay double the amount of your daily survival budget to see them, it means you really trust the band. But that’s no big deal, this is an investment, you repeat to yourself. The sound system will be great, and there might even be some wizard visual effect to make it totally mindbogging. And there, you are, weeks to come before the event, blasting their whole discography on your iPod (or on the record player, if you are a real fan). Therefore, will it or not, expectations arise. Moreover, if the concert in question is sold out way before the date, expectations multiply.
If the band in question is formed by youngsters who’ve lived most of their lives in one of the most secluded corners of the civilized-world-as-we-know-it like Tame Impala, the Australian self-defined ‘psychedelic hypno-groove melodic rock’ band that with the wondrous 2010 debut Innerspeaker got catapulted from the sun-kissed beaches of Perth to the stormy Olympus of music stardom, it may be a pretty traumatic experience trying to meet all these expectations.
Let’s rewind to 22nd June, the day I saw them in a very packed Roundhouse, the atmosphere filled with thick layers of expectations you would almost get stuck in them.
Opening acts Wolf People and Blood Red Shoes provide a good warm up, so that when Kevin Parker & co coyly make their way on stage, the audience explode in roars of excitement. First thing that strikes me is the odd composition of the audience. Together with thrilled teenagers and more or less very important people in the music biz, I see lots of people the age of my parents – the kind of people that passive-aggressively make their mate tell you that you are “obscuring their vision” the moment you finally find a gap to be filled by your presence in the middle of the crowd. Excuse me, sir, this is meant to be a rock ‘n roll gig, isn’t it?!
But as the band reminds me with their opener ‘It Is Not Meant To Be’, maybe this is not meant to be a real rock ‘n roll gig the way I was expecting. Despite the excitement, the concert seems a bit flat. The band executes their work impeccably, through psychedelic virtuosities and trippy sound visualization engineering. As they proceed with ‘Solitude is Bliss’ is clear the band is missing something. The sound system is great, and the fuzzy synth does the trick, but the gig all in all lacks of engagement on the side of the band. Or maybe it’s just the size of the venue to disperse their energy. Even the visual effects from Kevin’s guitar, that would have looked mind-blowing in any smaller venue, here look almost camp.
None of the elements of he band seems to burst with enthusiasm. The songs follow themselves with predictable cathartic moments and electric kool-aid flavoured instrumental virtuosities. However, much as I’ve loved this band since the times ofRunaway, Houses, City, Cloud, this won’t be remembered as one of the best concerts of my life. I look around me: an unhinged mix of bodies and movements.14-year-old kids are pogoing under the stage, and cross-armed 50-somethings stare at them humming and shaking their heads. I’m in the middle, literally and metaphorically.
Towards the middle of the gig, though, Tame Impala seem to have warmed up. With ‘Desire Be Desire Go’ they give us intense moments of pure dronedelia. Maybe it’s also thanks to that puff of illegalness that I’ve nicked from someone in the front rows, but I finally feel the wave of enormously vibrant sound and energy coming from the band. Now, this is psychedelic-rock.
With ‘Runaway, Houses, Cities, Clouds’ they reach the apex, closing the gig in the most intense way. Despite the public’s cries for encore, the band doesn’t come back out. After the initial disappointment, I’m actually satisfied. Sure, Tame Impala are still young, and still need to mature. Moreover, the venue around doesn’t give them justice. But they are one of the few bands around whose musicianship is inversely proportional to their age. Sure, they may have to learn to deal with expectations (or simply do not care about them) and the pros and cons of big venues, but they’ve got all the potentialities to do it.
By the way, towards the end I moved towards the centre of the hall under the stage. Sure, the “environment” around was not ideal, neither for the band, nor for the audience. But, as in concerts so in life, it’s about the position you take, either on or under the stage. I’m sure that eventually, despite a few bruises, I’ve had much more fun (and connected more to the music) than the people standing in the back.