It’s been just over two years since Tame Impala released Currents. And in that time, the man behind it all, Kevin Parker, has seemed fairly ever-present. The band was a fixture on the festival circuit last year, but Parker notably kept popping up in other places, like contributing “Perfect Illusion” to Lady Gaga’s 2016 release Joanne or remixing a new Mick Jagger song or the fact that Rihanna put an extremely faithful Tame Impala cover on ANTI. Last year, he suggested Tame Impala might go on a bit of a hiatus while he explored other things — one of which seems to be continued collaborations with Mark Ronson, with whom he’s done pseudo-DJ battles at a few festivals this year. The point being: The man’s arrived. Tame Impala, against most odds for a ’70s-indebted psych-rock band in 2017, are mainstream.
Along the way, their position on the festival circuit has steadily risen. Last year, they were a second- or third-tier headliner, the sort that would play one of the secondary large stages in mid or late evening, or would play the mainstage at sunset ahead of a few bigger names to come. That wasn’t the case at Panorama this year. Tame Impala were one of the big-font headliners, the act that closed Panorama’s mainstage on Saturday night. That puts them alongside Frank Ocean and Nine Inch Nails. It was a set that felt like a final signifier of what Currents has done: Tame Impala are not only an artist that can now truly headline a festival, they also act like festival headliners.
What this means if you’ve seen Tame Impala at all in the last year or year and a half is that you’re going to see basically the same set — a few gems from Innerspeaker, the hits and jams from Lonerism, (most of) the highlights from Currents. And I mean, they don’t act like festival headliners in the sense of showmanship; they’re still a collective of scraggly dudes, although Parker might say a few more things to the crowd now. The feeling of them having arrived as real headliners came more so in the effect of these songs. “Feels Like We Only Go Backwards” has always been a moment where the band flirted with more mainstream attention, but now it’s how they start the encore, and it gets tens of thousands of people singing along. Same goes for “Elephant.” Same goes for “Let It Happen” and “The Less I Know The Better” and “New Person, Same Old Mistakes.” They are beyond having one fluke song with wider notoriety. They have several huge songs that sound appropriately epic blaring from Panorama’s fancy stage.
Along the way, they also managed to sneak in a few gifts for fans who have been around, including “Sundown Syndrome,” a song they hadn’t played since 2010 up until their Panorama pre-show in Port Chester, NY on Thursday night. They also played the Currents track “Love/Paranoia,” which they’d only just debuted live at that same Thursday night show.
Whether those deeper cuts or the more universally recognized songs, it’s still wild to see Tame Impala garner this kind of attention. Any of those songs, even the catchiest ones, are still fairly blurry things. Sounds warp and layer to the point of overwhelming you. And in terms of production value, the band has stepped it up for the big stages while still remaining committed to that deeply psychedelic vibe. The stage was often drowned in as many lights as the songs are in effects. There were lasers. When they appeared on the screens, half the time it was in this distorted psych-coloration straight from the ’60s and ’70s, just rendered in a hi-def lushness.
They are not the kind of headliners to bring spectacle, but they bring something stunning. It’s a set that you can dance to, and sing along to, but can also just let wash over you as the group dives into each twisting passage or as an amorphous guitar drops you into an infectious synth break. At this point, we know how Tame Impala got here. But to see them actually do it, to own it, and to see Parker seemingly growing more comfortable with the whole mechanism of the music industry, yields not only a way more satisfying show than they were once capable of, but also the thought about where he could go from here. Somehow, they’re one of the biggest rock bands out there now. And it feels like Currents might’ve just been the beginning.