Tame Impala have released Live Versions on Spotify, which had previously only been available on vinyl as a special Record Store Day 2014 promotional album. While it's been called an EP by many, this would traditionally be called an LP - clocking in at over 40 minutes. This is only Tame Impala's third full-length album following the excellent studio albums Lonerism (2012) and Innerspeaker (2010).
Live Versions isn't exactly the most cohesive live album ever released; it's more like a bumpy spaceship ride. From the first song, "Endors Toi" we hear frontman Kevin Parker give a very casual "check" into the microphone. Then there's a start-stop intro section before the song really kicks into gear. As the song breaks down into a jam about 75% of the way through the track, we hear Parker engage the crowd in a conversational, "Hey Chicago, how's it going?"
Although his music takes cosmic inspiration, Parker's style as a frontman is very down to earth. He doesn't have the charisma and confidence of someone like Mick Jagger, but he's a true musical genius who gets fully absorbed in the sound being created on stage. Parker plays every instrument on many Tame Impala recordings, acts as producer, and writes all of the songs (sometimes with co-writers). Working with a touring band, he's embraced the live element of psychedelic music to great success. The songs move and breathe in ways that they simply don't on record, in part because he's chosen not to use drum loops.
The wildly unpredictable nature of Tame Impala's live show is a big part of what makes them so exciting. The band's recorded music is already bombastic, featuring huge riffs and heavy production with lots of effects and layering of sounds. This live album shows how the band has rearranged their songs, with jam sections and different starts to tunes. A Record Store Day press release says, "The live arrangements of these tracks are distinctly different than the recorded arrangements, and chosen for this RSD release for that reason." While the audience doesn't know exactly what's happening, the grooves are so deep and solid that it doesn't really matter.
The third track, "Sestri Levante," is a previously unreleased instrumental track. The song is named after the beautiful coastal town in Northern Italy. There have been several other songs named after Sestri Levante over the years by other songwriters, but it appears this Tame Impala version isn't an instrumental version of any of those.
"Mind Mischief" is typical of the album. The song starts with the familiar hooky guitar riff and groove, but then shifts completely to a keyboard breakdown - which leads directly into the song's bridge and subsequent ending, without even going into the majority of the song. Since this was originally released on vinyl, time constraints may have led them to cut out the bulk of the song, but this YouTube video of the band in Chicago shows that this is exactly how they performed "Mind Mischief" live.
"Half Full Glass Of Wine" starts with Kevin Parker talking about the opening band, White Denim, as freakishly good musicians. Tame Impala proceeds by digging deep into '60s psychedelia with guitars that harken back to Eric Clapton's "Woman Tone" during his CREAM years. The band brings the volume down, but the intensity grows as the audience claps to the beat. Then the guitar lead section builds everything back up to a slow crescendo that culminates in space rock majesty that segues seamlessly right back into the earlier groove of the song. It is completely different from the studio version, and it is awesome.
"It Feels Like We Only Go Backwards" is the only track on Live Versions that seems completely true to the studio version, possibly because it's one of the band's tighter, more pop oriented songs - and it was a big hit. "Apocalypse Dreams" closes things out with explosive guitar sounds that are far more exciting than what we hear on the album.
The only disappointment with the record is that it doesn't include the band's most recognizable song, the adrenaline pumping "Elephant."
In all, this is an excellent live album. The band has never released a live DVD, but one hopes that they may be releasing one soon.
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