“Hey, nice night, eh?” asks Tame Impala’s Kevin Parker three songs before the end of the Aussie band’s Coachella headline set. He’s not wrong – it’s a treat to see a band like Tame so high up the bill of a major festival, their biggest headline date so far, doubling in size on New York’s Panorama, which they headlined back in 2017.
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But “nice” could also be used to describe how limited their set is, too. There is no big “wow” moment in the hour-and-a-half that Parker and co are on stage, neither a big, showy production splash or a killer track that will, on future listens, always transport you back to this very night in the Californian desert.
The idea of Tame Impala headlining a festival as big as Coachella is exciting. It says that it’s still possible, in an age where, in the mainstream at least, bands are less popular than pop stars and rappers, for a group to forge their own path of experimentation to the top. It should be a celebration of a band who’ve grown from cult concern to masters of their field. But, from the eight-minute ravey epic of ‘Let It Happen’ to the psych stomp of ‘Elephant’, and the squelching drift of ‘New Person, Same Old Mistakes’, it is merely nice and not much else.
Perhaps that’s because tonight’s set is made up mostly of tracks from their last album, ‘Currents’ – their poppiest record to date that cuts down the amount of psychedelic exploration they once went on. The likes of ‘The Less I Know the Better’ and ‘Eventually’ are slicker, more straightforward than the Tame Impala of old. They might not bury their pop hooks but they’re also less interesting than Parker’s group can afford to be.
There’s also the fact that, despite not having released a new album since 2015, this set feels largely familiar. There are two new tracks in ‘Patience’ and Borderline’, both of which are good without setting the world alight, but aside from that, it’s almost the same as last summer’s setlists in a different order. It’s fair that Tame Impala might not want to flood their set with new songs but delivering mostly the same set as every summer for the past four years feels a little like you’re being short-changed. If this is meant to be a big moment for the band – and it has the potential to be huge – then you would think they might want to at least catch people off guard for a minute and try something a little more adventurous than what they offer up.
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“It’s crazy but I feel blessed,” Parker adds before he and his band begin to wrap things up. “I don’t know by who, but I just feel so lucky right now in so many ways.” No one will begrudge him this moment in the spotlight and there’s nothing technically wrong with their bill-topping set. But it just feels like a wasted opportunity to really come out swinging ahead of a new album and make the world beyond their cultishly obsessive fanbase really pay attention. Perhaps when said record is out they’ll mix things up a bit more. It might not quite feel, like the woozy, brilliant song that comes two tracks before the end, that they’re only going backwards, but at most Tame Impala are treading water at Coachella.
Tame Impala played:
‘Let It Happen’
‘It Is Not Meant To Be’
‘The Less I Know The Better’
‘Yes I’m Changing’
‘Why Won’t You Make Up Your Mind?’
‘Feels Like We Only Go Backwards’
‘New Person, Same Old Mistakes’