Percussionists are usually with us to serve as the designated keepers of time, their intendment one of principled phrasing and measured meters. However, when it comes to the poetic cadences and burnished beats of Tame Impala, and their tide-titan creator Kevin Parker, the word “percussion” comes swiftly to mean something far beyond the counting out of right-angled fours. Stopping at Atlanta’s State Farm Arena on Tuesday, September 28th, the final night of the first leg of their tour in support of their fourth studio album, The Slow Rush (QRO review), Tame Impala tapped into their highly original orchestrations of groove and rudiment, teaching A-Town a new psalmody when it comes to the message in the beat.
Writing from the beat forward is not something even many classically trained drummers would have the instinct to do, but Kevin Parker does it as a matter, seemingly, of biological design. Rhythm is nearly always the foundation of any truly memorable song, but Parker is beautifully alone in likewise making it the go-to starting page of the whole composition process. Since 2010’s interstitial Innerspeaker (QRO review), there has always been something transgenic in what Kevin Parker does with regard to beats and the baseline meanings, and even melodies, that form atop them in his songs. He tackles timbral timelines in a tactical manner, a rhythmic hacktivist who gets all the way inside the coding of any given beat pattern to rearrange it in such a way that it reflects all of the bubblegum and broken glass of his life experience, but can likewise support big hoops of sound dipped in that silver nitrate of sorts that has been his singular sound-insignia since Tame Impala’s earliest inception.
Parker seems to utilize tempo to rewind to the liminal moments in his life, and then, by proxy, to those of any close listener. He writes tunes that are trousseaus and spice ceremonies of both his gamely gabbled heartbreaks and flensed joys. In their wedded gold he forges all his mourning rings and maniacal laughter, but somehow even the sad ones are never depressing. Tame Impala songs are precipitous; they trail white licorice, display spiky icicles, smell of horses, and always feel slightly illicit, like all forms of wild food.
Parker’s songwriting is reflective of the hybrid provenance from which he derives. Australia’s Perth is pretty much as far away from everything as you can get and still be on a continent that harbors a major cosmopolitan city – but Perth is also the oscillating center of its own incredibly unique music culture, in which gloriously diverse wonders like Troye Sivan to The Sleepy Jackson are everyday characters. Though Parker is an adroit master at making you think any given one of his songs is a walk without a destination, there are no actual Tame Impala rambles. What may at first ear-lean appear to be an aimless acid trip on a Sapphire Coast strand, upon more studied examination, contains Fibonacci-like beat patterns and under-rhythms that are as tight as Bob Ross’ purposely permed head-springs. Parker controls their deformability with a laser-like precision – with the exactitude of a really great drummer, that is – and there is nothing alla prima in any of it, wily as it may look and sound.
Lonerism was the dark-visored inflection point of Parker’s career-heart-spirit trajectory in 2012, and everything after has been the fluidization of Tame Impala’s signature transdimensional viscera-made-tympanic style. 2015’s Currents was Parker fully asserting his indefinable difference, slipping his own moorings, and sonically extemporizing his own gestalt therapy, as well as ours too.
Tame Impala’s music has always been in need of an orphan drug designation of its own because it has never been housed within a genre that had a true name, or could be said to belong to any identifiable place in time. It has always been the soundtrack of diffusivity, or an aural ohm meter for something agelessly maritime and botanical. Where other drummers may play to a click, Kevin Parker has carved an industrious career out of drawing time-kept sounds from corners of the mind containing no clocks or metronomes, and there is a particular way that Tame Impala triumphs such as this have served as triage to many, many wistful listeners who may not even question or understand what it makes them feel, but they know it is necessary and good.
As such, ‘Rushium’ is Tame Impala’s way of expressing the musicality of all kinds of temporal aberrations, perceived or otherwise. Rushium, the drug, is a fantasy spatiotemporal alterrant that produces the same effect on the brain that music imbibed correctly always has: it stops time. It adjusts and accelerates perception. A person’s impression or memory of the passage of time (or lack thereof) is fraught with recyclable exits and entrances that are not always aligned with actual minutes and hours. The Slow Rush show begins with a mock pharmaceutical advertisement for the imaginary substance that is Rushium, and morphs into a display of what the “drug” can do – slow down or even stop time completely – by virtue of disconcertingly blurring the image and speech of the lab-coated nurse practitioner who is pitching the chrono-interrupting chemical to the audience.
With its motto, “Experience Time, Every Time,” Rushium is all about how we fade in and out of our own experiences and estimations of ourselves like narcoleptic children from fantastical planets. The Slow Rush is both the sleeping pill and the waking concoction, depending on where you are within the measured time of your own mind. As all of the album The Slow Rush is not just a reflection on the passage of time, but also a physical representation of it – beginning with “One More Year” and winnowing down to “One More Hour” – Tame Impala’s bare brilliance in conceptualizing Rushium in conjunction with the contentious and continuous debates raging the world over with regard to vaccines, COVID in general, and what to do with all this “found” time that has been foisted on all of us must be fully acknowledged for its artistic merit and incisive social relevance.
Whenever any artist can take the fears and reflections of the irreplaceable moment for which their creation is providing a lens and turn it into a thought piece, an inside joke, a little bit of performance art, and some well-founded inquisitive concern, that is when you know you have truly tripped into the category of the timeless. The Slow Rush tour and the overall idea of Rushium represent the fissured and seraphic clinical trial that everyone is already a part of right now whether attending this Tame Impala tour has ever crossed the mind or not.
Preceded on stage by perennial partners in pulse and pattern generation, the ever-enigmatic Dominic Simper (guitar, synthesizer), the untenably hip Cam Avery (bass guitar, vocals), the quiet radical that is Jay Watson (synthesizer, vocals, guitar), and ruction-behind-the-rack Julien Barbagallo (drums, vocals), Parker walked out to the gated growls of “One More Year,” Track 1 off The Slow Rush. It might as well have been a bullhorn announcement of the way this performance would hinge entirely on chronologies of varying sorts. The first impression of all the Tame Impala lads standing in front of you is always the same, no matter how many times you see them: what a mystical phalanx of cool. They communicate with one another as wordlessly as Navy signalmen.
With the exception of just a few interspersed instances where the insertion of Tame Impala classics such as “Elephant“ and “The Less I Know The Better“ must certainly be encouraged to stampede through, The Slow Rush show follows the precise tracking order of the record it is supporting. Incidentally, “Elephant” was a moment of mosh magic and dog-whistle-level squeals all round, crowned by that stunning Rickenbacker Fireglo coughing up Parker’s trademark tripadelic cherries. Kevin Parker has forever written Rickenbackers into the rhetoric of a kind of beach-punk vibe that feels like recycled cashmere, and the “Elephant” Atlanta got this night was surely among the finest examples of why.
Radio and crowd favorite, “Borderline”, possibly the most telling on the entire record of the eternal scrimmage between what Kevin Parker hears and what he wants, was set against cresting waves of saturated swirl imagery that did not just seamlessly match the sounds of the song itself, but seemed to emanate directly from them, as well as from the pain and rapture described in the song’s lyrics. “Posthumous Forgiveness“ is sung enshrouded in a theatre of trees and sea and other sylvan settings befitting a tune about how, try as we might, each and every one of us will eventually be betrayed by our own innocence of the fact our parents are people. “Posthumous Forgiveness” is art transcending the misfortune of that misunderstanding.
An evolving color story in the form of a gargantuan, circular rainbow of chest-thumping light and lasers hovers overhead throughout the crescendo of song-seasons making up The Slow Rush concert experience. The circle tilts and moves like an eye of torches – or, also very like a sentient, faceless clock. Mid-show, the colossal ring of rays transforms into a veritable low-hovering spaceship of spectrographic colors, spiraling through the whole spectrum in rotations governed by ungodly blasts of fuzz-bass that shook the body from the deepest center and out. The entire Slow Rush show makes one feel as though one has stepped inside Quadrophenia, but that it is now set on the Coral Coast and Keith Moon is co-directing.
“Breathe Deeper”, which Parker has shared was composed upon a stoned stroll down to the shops, is an unmistakably three-chaptered beat-book of princely palaver that could only ever originate in the outpost of the outback, where no star is incidental. It is a strudel of a song that, performed live, feels as fabulous as if it were possible to block 57th Street in NYC to all but press-averse hippie wago traffic, and you could just delight in the scalloped scales of small schools of Tang that somehow seem to air-swim by your face, in tandem with the Tom-toms and ripples of synths.
“Is It True?” lets Parker and the crew be totally “in the gods,” so to speak, and though animals like these do not need any words, their distinct lug-language with one another comes out live in a way that will make you think of dolphins and hummingbirds, simultaneously. As the song itself deals with the anatomy of intimation always presiding between those who know one another intimately, it is ten times more amazing that this tune is the most danceable dodging game of all recent airwave-years. “Lost In Yesterday“ is where Parker is most able to show off his vector-voice. Like a redolent riptide, he will make you think he is going to a certain note and then arc over, ever so slightly and always surprisingly, to the left or right of it in a captivating manner all his own.
In any proper analysis of what Tame Impala truly is in 2021, one must start with what Kevin Parker has always been. A preposterously talented musical polymath. A shadow minister of wordless signs and soundless signals. A mad loop artist taking us for a walk on cracked pavement. A spinning top of a spectroscopist whose sole business is adding new bands of color to what have heretofore been deemed the limits of visible light. Parker also handily stretches what one might believe is a supportable limit of pulchritude in male beauty – all juddering natural handsomeness and piquancy. Effortlessly effing fly. In the private school of Perthian psychedelia, he is both the preceptor and the coolest kid in class. Though, standing just across from him for a few hours, he does not ever let you forget that he is, in his truest heart, just a hyperosmotic, purebred grunge boy from the most remote city on Earth – a heart-stoppingly rare entity to behold amidst this common era’s bevy of boring, boy-bandish betas.
Historically, big-stadium fame can be a fearsome thing for visionary forest boys, and bending the world has always been a boorish business. It did not go as well as any of us wished for Jimi Hendrix or Kurt Cobain. But Kevin Parker’s method for managing this has been to mastermind a kind of musical Meisner Technique wherein massive, much-deserved success is self-actualization rather than self-immolation when he does it. As modern a man and artist as he is, there is yet something of the old-school switchboard operator in Parker. He creates from the relay board where electronic ephemera, break beats, and Drop D distortion merge into one call, and remains every bit as reminiscent of Brian Eno as he is of Innervisions-era Stevie Wonder. We, the listeners, are all on the other end of the line – waiting to be connected to we know not what, and the bounce down is nearly always a kind of spiritual syncopation only beat-forward Kevin Parker could have ever conceived of.
The Slow Rush tour is no minor anachronism but rather a longitudinal study in drippy dynamics and dreams that will alter your perception of the space-time continuum for many days after. This is the Tame Impala party no one will want the lights turned on for as it truly does, with its myriad of moments, allow one to “Experience Time, Every Time” – and repeatedly. Whatever the time signature of your current musical mood, adding even just a picoliter of Rushium will teach you how to tap your foot in viscoelastic polyrhythms you did not realize you knew.