Admittedly, I’m late to the Tame Impala party.
Sometimes it takes a few listens to truly appreciate a band; this describes my relationship with Tame Impala. I first saw them at Outside Lands last year, and I blame festival fatigue for the delayed attraction. My Fella, however, was instantly entranced as was the rest of San Francisco, apparently, for their November 15th show at The Fillmore sold out clean. As for their current tour, the May 29th show at the Fox Theater in Oakland is also unavailable to we ticket purchase procrastinators. In fact, you’ll have to scroll three stops down the tour and travel to Tennessee in order to see them live.
Since our journey through the outside lands within Golden Gate Park last summer, Tame Impala has become the unofficial fifth member of our household and I was forced to love them. And I do, I really do. The aforementioned Fella sat me down for a listen to the song “Elephant” some months back, taking great pains to point out the ingenious word-play at 2:50 to 2:55 in the song. Yes, this is what we do in our free time. It’s driving rhythm evokes an early time when you could be chemically enhanced in public and no one would pay you mind. Come to think of it, that time is still alive and well in San Francisco.
Which brings me to the synchronicity of their show at The Fillmore, an essential landmark in the psychogeography of 1960s San Francisco. During this epic decade, anyone who was anyone in Haight Ashbury saw shows at Bill Graham’s nascent venue. Going to a rock concert at the Fillmore then was similar but different to what we experience now. Musicians played with their backs to the audience because they were not the visual component of the show. This makes sense since most of them weren’t much to look at (David Crosby anyone?) unless they had a lead singer like Janis Joplin, the spasmodic scene-stealer, or Jim Morrison, who always offered a potential pop of his manhood through those famous leather pants. Instead, concertgoers feasted their eyes on a psychedelic liquid light show produced by the Brotherhood of Light, which was formed by Brian Eppes, Brother Ed Langdon, Marcus Maximist and Bob Pullum in 1968.
These light shows attempted to visualize the music to further stimulate the crowd (not that many of them needed further stimulation). Using overhead projectors, a combination of color wheels, liquid dyes on slides, clips from 16mm movies and flashing still images, they created a phantasmagorical or horrific (depending on what drugs you took), constantly changing, “multi-sensory musical experience” behind the band. No two light shows were the same, just as no song is performed live the same way twice. During their tenure at the Fillmore, the Brotherhood of Light enhanced performances by legendary acts such as Led Zeppelin, Janis Joplin, The Jimi Hendrix Experience, and the Doors, among others.
Although this type of display is common in its digital form today, the first versions were innovative artistry that helped to define an entire genre of music. Watching the official video for Tame Impala’s “Elephant,” it’s easy to see how they fit into and extend this legacy with this “perfect song,” as it was dubbed by stoned You Tube commentarians. The Brotherhood of Light may no longer be a fixture at The Fillmore, but you do still receive the traditional free poster at the door when you leave the venue after the show. And in Tame Impala, whose lead singer performs shoeless, you get a fresh flick in the face of that sweet paint of the past.