If you’re going to shoot off your confetti cannon before you finish the first song, you’d better be sure to have held some ammunition in reserve.
Kevin Parker had no need to worry about peaking too early at the Mann Center for the Performing Arts on Friday night. The Australian auteur who is the mastermind behind Tame Impala treated the opening psych-rock salvo, “Let It Happen,” with the kind of fanfare normally reserved for an encore. And then he had plenty more.
Tame Impala’s success defies conventional wisdom about the place of young rock bands in pop culture. Acts that fill arenas, amphitheaters, and stadiums are supposed to come from the hip-hop, country, pop or jam band world. If they rock, they’re most often weathered, old, reliable warhorses such as the Rolling Stones.
And yet there was Parker and his five-piece band at the sold-out Mann in Fairmount Park, fresh off a two-night stand at Madison Square Garden in New York and festival headlining gigs at Coachella and Lollapalooza earlier this year.
All this despite the absence of a new Tame Impala album since 2015, the year of the release of Currents, the breakout success that supplied the bulk of the material in the band’s 16-song, 90-minute set on Friday.
Along with collaborating with Lady Gaga, Travis Scott and Mark Ronson, and seeing his song “New Person, Same Old Mistakes” covered by Rihanna, Parker has been working on a follow-up to Currents.
He did succeed in releasing two new songs this year, “Borderline” and “Patience.” Both blend Parker’s neo-psychedelic leanings and tendency toward wistful lyrics and bittersweet melodies with a steady pulse of house music. “Has it really been that long?” he sang at the Mann in “Patience,” wondering where the time has gone.
There’s a tension at the heart of what Tame Impala does. Parker writes introspective songs — the band’s 2012 album was called Lonerism. And he’s a studio obsessive, a solitary tinker who builds songs about self-doubt and heartache such as “Mind Mischief” in meticulously constructed layers.
But though the songs are forged in isolation and speak to fans’ private selves, the music is welcoming, and Friday night’s show played out like a nonstop mind-altering party.
The psychedelic late 1960s are the starting point, but the songs are tightly disciplined and never meander aimlessly as they draw on the prog-rock, pop-soul, and disco ’70s and show a facility for pastiche in the manner of dance music technicians such as French duo Daft Punk.
Tame Impala made that move to the dance floor with Currents, which grew the band’s following with a big, open-hearted sound. Parker, 33, has given credit for that shift in direction to hearing the Bee Gees‘ “Staying Alive” in a car in Los Angeles while under the influence of psychedelic mushrooms and cocaine, an experience he has said had “a profound emotional effect" on him.
At the Mann on Friday, the audience, made up mostly of fans Parker’s age and younger, stood and danced and sang along, as a latticework of colorful lasers shot into the night and trippy abstractions melted into the singer’s image on the video screen behind him.
Of course, that is another big reason for Tame Impala’s swelling success. Many young bands seem almost embarrassed by the idea of energetically indulging in the clichés of rock performance. But in his own quiet, self-effacing way, Parker was quite the showman at the Mann.
He struck guitar hero poses while dramatically strobe-lit from behind. And while positioned at his keyboard, he let the dazzling light show — and another fusillade of confetti during the closing “New Person, Same Old Mistakes” — do the work. Most important, he made sure the Tame Impala show wasn’t just something to hear, but also something to see.