The Olympia is a real treasure of a venue these days, and holds something of a legendary status amongst past generations of gig goers in Liverpool. Waiting to go inside feels like you’re queuing up in the past, and your friends all appear to be in black and white, but whilst it’s true that nearly every great gig/nightclub venue this city has had eventually succumbed to a demise even if many of them have since reopened in some capacity the Olympia continues to stand firm. Well…sort of…if you don’t count the adjoining Grafton Rooms, another of the city’s legendary venues, the front of which collapsed in early 2013 resulting in its closure. For now at least the Olympia stands firm.
There was something fitting about seeing Tame Impala there as well – and not least because it was apparently their first ever gig in this fair city. Having seen them only once before at Glastonbury a few years back, where their middle of the day Other Stage slot was, in my opinion, quite unable to bring their music to life in the way that I’ve always imagined it could be; the small, intimate, and retro environment of the Olympia promised to be able to do that. And on the whole it did, with the only issue now being that the band, now in the midst of touring their third album, Currents, have reached a new musical plateau which, although they are still a real treat to behold in a smaller venue, made it feel at times like the music was trying to escape the confines of the space it was being contained in.
Purists may say that small venues are always the best gigs, but for me, sometimes, either through an increase in popularity or the expansion of their actual sound, bands are just ready to be playing bigger gigs. Not to say Tame Impala haven’t been doing already of course, but it is that sort of setting which seems the more ideal way in which to see them at this moment in time. In terms of their popularity, a first UK number one album rather speaks for itself, but in terms of their music the band truly arrived with their previous album Lonerism, which I would still argue is superior to Currents, and it was no surprise to see these two records make up the majority of the set.
There was no better way to kick off proceedings than with the slightly teasing intro they played before eventually tearing into the infectious “Let It Happen” possibly the band’s best individual song to date – which immediately had the crowd in a frenzy for what was close to the next ten minutes of its duration. Kevin Parker has created a sound that I’ve probably described as perfect somewhere along the way, because it is one of those sounds that a) is definitely for me and b) is how I imagine a lot of bands really wish they sounded. The magical and mesmerising intros of songs like “Mind Mischief” and “Why Won’t They Talk To Me?”, meet their match in urgency with the likes of “Elephant” and “The Moment”, the latter two of which demanding to be heard rather than floating by as dreamy streams of consciousness like the former.
The funky “The Less I Know The Better” was another highlight of the set and, along with the track that showcases Parker at his most obvious John Lennon impersonating best, “Cause I’m A Man” (if he’d have put a comma then “Woman” at the end when naming it then the game would well and truly be given away). It’s never bothered me that he sounds like John, or The Beatles as a whole, because at the end of the day that’s the reason I got into them in the first place and, despite being pretty much identical in sentiment and sound to the Lennon classic, “Woman”, “Cause I’m A Man” has quickly become one of their most beloved tracks and was given pride of place near the end of the set as things drew to a close.
So remember when I said I thought “Let It Happen” was their best song? Well the other contender is the sprawling masterpiece that is “Apocalypse Dreams”. Now although I thought it was performed brilliantly by the band, and I was waving my hands around in the air for its epic close out, this is the sort of thing I was talking about when I said about their music wanting to escape the confines of the venue. I’ve always held the assertion that this song should be the one blowing my mind (along with everyone else’s) when hearing it live and it just didn’t, quite, do that. No hairs on the back of my neck, no pulling my face down in disbelief of it melting, and no hands on the top of my head occasionally saying “Fucking Hell” to one or other of my friends as the song plays out.
When I undoubtedly go and see them in Manchester next year, I’ll be hoping to experience one or all of these sensations whilst listening to “Apocalypse Dreams”. Or maybe I’ll be saying to people afterwards when it was just alright: “Yeah I saw them in this little old venue in Liverpool last year and it was loads better.” In reality though Tame Impala put on a great gig at the Olympia, and will undoubtedly match or top it the next time they return to play in this country because, unlike fan favourite “Feels Like We Only Go Backwards” which was happily included in the encore, it feels like the only way Parker and his band will be going is onwards – and upwards!