Psychedelic rock band Tame Impala played two straight shows at New York City’s famed mega-venue, Madison Square Garden. Okayplayer experienced the second show in person.
On a sticky August night in Manhattan, swarms of straphangers emerged from sweltering subway tunnels and into the bright lights and perpetual glitz of midtown. Tame Impala would be headlining their second straight night at famed mega-venue, Madison Square Garden.
The buzz surrounding Tame Impala has proliferated with a certain steadiness over the years, once representing a considerable appreciation for new-age psychedelia in rock, but eventually snowballing into full-fledged cult status.
Since the success of 2015’s award-winning third studio album, Currents, fans have waited diligently for a new album that was once teased to be released as early as this summer. Instead, listeners have been combing through two singles released in 2019, “Borderline” and “Patience” in hopes of gleaning the new sound. “Borderline” serves as a nod to the enduring process that putting out the next album entails, leading with the rhetorical line, “Has it really been that long?”
Attending a well-anticipated show at Madison Square Garden defines modern spectacle; something like a 21st century Roman Colosseum where frothy beer and glowing smartphones serve as universal nectars of enjoyment. By the time the lights finally came down, the crowd fell into a soft roar, channeling the mounting buzz that comes with tens of thousands of eyeballs gazing in the same direction.
First, opener Velvet Negroni sauntered on-stage, adorned with swaying dreadlocks and a black tee unapologetically reading, “SAVE THE PLANET.” Velvet Negroni’s nomenclature is derived from an Italian cocktail of the same name, the complexity and bittersweet flavor resonating with his sense of artistry.
Against a towering yellow screen and backed by a four-piece band, Velvet Negroni’s voice ebbed across the slowly filling stadium floor, performing tracks like the exceptional “Wine Green” and “Poster Child,” showcasing his ability to synthesize pop, R&B, and soul into a crystalline whole.
After the opening set concluded, the anticipation for Tame Impala grew, the audience draped in a pale blue light and inching closer to the stage.
The stadium erupted as Kevin Parker and his backing band entered to a pulsing blue and white light circling the stage, creating something of a halo: the exhibition of rock and roll prophecy will be in full form tonight. Lead-off track, “Let It Happen,” sparked the crowd deeper into a frenzy, its seemingly infinite builds serving as a perfect way to stoke white-hot collective energy and distill it into overflowing adulation.
The introspective lyrics of Kevin Parker lend themselves sublimely to the unified cheers of thousands of fans, despite Parker’s own take on songwriting reflecting a different ethos:
A lot of artists get inspired by the idea of singing something to a crowd, many thousands of people, but me, I prefer just to think about the kid wearing headphones riding the bus home from school.
Perhaps it’s this sense of intimacy and the ability for individual listeners to feel spoken to almost via internal monologue, which has helped to culminate the palpable faithfulness of his global audience.
On “Apocalypse Dreams” the first lines ring of optimistic tenor, “This could be the day that we push through, it could be the day that all our dreams come true,” before the refrain backtracks to doubt:
Well, am I getting closer? Will I ever get there? Does it even matter?
In many ways, it’s this multitude of experience, both soaring possibility and crippling vulnerability found across his work, that makes Parker feel eminently relatable.
As the set moved through albums Innerspeaker and Lonerism, the lysergic-soaked backdrop and flashing lasers worked to create an entrancement that made tracks like “Elephant” and “Why Won’t You Make Up Your Mind?” feel like they’re being burnt into memory even while the moment unfolds. Meanwhile, powerful bursts of rainbow confetti streamed into the air, serving as push-button fairy dust for the masses.
At times, the performance felt almost overly garish, drenched in 3D, CGI, and pulsing lasers. When Kevin Parker spent several minutes displayed on the widescreen backdrop with penetrating beams of light coming directly from his eyes, I couldn’t help but wonder what fuzzy moments of quiet soul-searching culminated in Parker feeling so superhuman.
During these unrelatable moments, the show devolves into merely sensationalized entertainment, opulent special effects better fit for the next blockbuster film.
But at its peaks, it successfully taps into a collective psyche and allows a supremely distracted generation to connect, even if just momentarily, to deeper notions of existentialism and hints of the great unknown.