Any time your photographer is told “try not to get your head blown off by the confetti canons” while shooting from the photo pit, you know you’re in for a great night. Yet, at the same time, associating that admonition with a couple of bands who describe their sound as “dadwave” or “epiphany pop” is something quite out of the ordinary.
Last weekend, the Greek Theatre Berkeley hosted back-to-back, sold-out nights with two of the biggest names in neo-psychedelic rock. With both bands paying homage to founders of the genre while paving the way for a new generation of psych-rock enthusiasts, opening act Unknown Mortal Orchestra and headliner Tame Impala blew the minds of those present as they each instilled a familiar, yet phantom sense of nostalgia, recalling an era and musical footnote way beyond the scope and lifespans of most in attendance.
At face value, the bill already had the promise of creating somewhat “heady” vibes and the subsequent anticipation of funk-infused guitar jams with orchestrated nods to the history of Bay Area psychedelia. Wasting no time after jumping onstage, Unknown Mortal Orchestra filled their late-afternoon set with crowd favorites and a spot-on cover of the Grateful Dead’s “Shakedown Street”. The four-piece briefly transported the crowd back to the summer of ’78 as the fog rolled in over a clear panorama of the Golden Gate Bridge and the California sun set in a twilight haze over the Greek, paving the way perfectly for Tame Impala to take the stage.
When I ran into our photographer (who gave us the aforementioned warning/spoiler alert) in between sets, it only further verified the collective excitement and anticipation that you could sense amongst the capacity crowd. Besides the pit dwellers, who were holding their ground and watching/cheering along to a solitary fan playing the “water bottle flip” game in the seats above, crowd members scrambled to get a spot for the main attraction. From Tame Impala’s set design, you could immediately tell that Kevin Parker and company had brought the same stage production that they showed off the weekend before in Los Angeles at FYF Fest.
As they opened with the dream-inducing interlude “Nangs” from their latest studio album Currents, Tame Impala gave the crowd an ample minute and a half to commit to the spatial surroundings before jumping full throttle into an explosive rendition of lead single “Let It Happen,” playing the tracks in reverse order than they are on the LP.
By the third song (as promised), the sky, having just turned black, was filled with a stadium’s worth of rainbow confetti as the band played the opening chords of 2012’s psuedo love ballad “Mind Mischief”. Followed by a rare performance — only the second time in three years — of “Music to Walk Home By” from 2012’s Lonerism, Tame Impala played a wide range of emotive classics while scrambling the brains of more than 8,500 audience members with their intense onslaught of sensory-overloading imagery and hypnotic light show.
Midway through their show, Tame Impala broke out into an elongated jam of the rare funk cut “Daffodils”, a Mark Ronson song off his 2015 solo LP Uptown Special that Parker contributed vocals on. They finished up strong, running through hit after hit from all three of their albums and wasting no time bantering between songs and instead, focusing on the sonic journey they were conducting over the spellbound crowd. As they ended their set with an encore featuring Lonerism single “It Feels Like We Only Go Backwards” and recent crossover hit “New Person, Same Old Mistakes” from Currents, fans collectively swayed and sang along to every lyric at the top of their lungs.
It’s hard to believe that only two years ago, these bands were headlining clubs and theaters throughout the Bay Area — and now, they have skyrocketed to a level of success that even Parker himself has had a hard time fathoming. After seeing how both bands commanded a sold-out crowd at one of the most legendary venues in Northern California though, I doubt there will be any slowing down from them in their near future.
As I left the Greek with my friends, we talked about how many millennials will likely look back on both bands as their modern-day Pink Floyd or their The Smile Sessions-era Beach Boys. And for a second, I felt comforted by that idea. If Tame Impala and Unknown Mortal Orchestra are the ones who will be carrying that torch, I look forward to seeing how they further that flame.
Let It Happen
Music to Walk Home By (partial)
Why Won’t You Make Up Your Mind?
Why Won’t They Talk to Me?
The Less I Know the Better
Daffodils (Mark Ronson cover)
Yes I’m Changing
It Is Not Meant to Be
Feels Like We Only Go Backwards
New Person, Same Old Mistakes