Tame Impala vs. Peru: Palpable Surreality

Since arriving in Lima, life has been a relentless, exciting and exhausting cascade of disorientation. Now that I’ve been here for two months, I’m becoming used to the fact that unfamiliar is the new normal. So, naturally, when late one summer afternoon in Barranco I see from a distance the psychedelic cover art of Tame Impala’s new album, “Currents,” I’m caught a little off guard. I’ve been listening to the album multiple times a week for the past several months, but for me, this Australian neo-psych pop music is something entirely distinct from my Peruvian experience, existing only in my headphones. Moving closer, I try not to jump to conclusions until I can make out the text, but my heart is starting to race… oh my god yes, “TAME IMPALA LET IT HAPPEN PERU // 16 MARZO // PARQUE DE LA EXPOSICIÓN LIMA” and moreover, beneath  in smaller type read, “CON ALVVAYS (INVITADO ESPECIAL)”.

“You’ve got to be kidding me!” I laugh, shaking my head, a huge grin on my face, fully falling into the ecstatic wave swelling within me. This is absurd and incredible. This is the most improbable and awesome concert that the universe has ever presented to me. For those who don’t know about my love affair with Alvvays, they’re the Toronto based jangle pop band that I’d performed with at the Wolf Island Music festival, with whose music and lead singer I’d fallen shamelessly in love with over the past 16 months, who I’d gleefully seen perform in Kingston, Toronto, and out in British Columbia, is now playing a show with another all time favourite band of mine, in LIMA PERU of all places in the goddamn world. What the freaking hell!? I seriously hope I’m not over-drawing from my well of good luck here because I wanna save some for when I’m older. I do a spontaneous little dance on the polished concrete of the dusty Barranco street corner.

Two weeks pass and I’m rocking back and forth under the flourescent lights of the metropolitano bus on my way to the show, the warm air of the night fluttering on my face through the open windows. A few quickly consumed beers are fuelling my excitement and a couple more are clinking in a plastic bag to be shared with a friend I am meeting, along with my Alvvays t-shirt for her to wear. She’s a huge fan of the Cranberries, and so naturally when I played for her a little  of the melody-driven Canadian band, she couldn’t fight the gravity of the the earnest, angsty, and oh-so-lovable voice of Molly Rankin. Finally at my stop. Carolina is waiting for me for me there patiently, looking lovely as ever. I greet her with a kiss on the cheek and we make our way to take a drink at the “Circuito Magico del Agua” or the “Magic Water Circuit.” Somehow when translated the name of the fountains doesn’t sound quite so magical. Some things are just a little more romantic in Spanish, I think.

The water flies and falls, swells, and spurts, accompanied by coloured lights, mist, and lasers. Yes lasers. It’s a perfectly psychadelic visual pregame for the upcoming show. Now I’ve previously written about how Lima is an incedibly “human” place… people are passionate; people express their feelings outwardly. So here at the fountains, as Caro and I walk through the manicured gardens sipping our now not-so-cold beers, people aren’t just looking at the fountains, people are going in them, even at night, with all the lights and stuff. Strange. Awesome. What I don’t realize at the time is this “Peruvian desire to be a participant not an observe” will really manifest with full force once the concert starts later in the evening

Though the raw and unregulated nature of society bombards me daily, I still can’t hide my surprise when on the way to the gate we pass through a gauntlet of people hawking copywrite-infringing Tame Impala goods: t-shirts, muscle shirts, pins, posters, all sporting pixelated images likely “Command-S-ed” from the concert’s facebook page. Dirt cheap too. I obviously bought a poster for 3 soles, a buck and change Canadian.

Inside it’s a different world from the Lima I’ve come to know. The concert is obviously not cheap; contrasting sharply with the dark skinned and visibly poor peddlers and bottle collectors outside, the demographic inside the gates is comprised of the city’s trendiest and most monied hipsters. I may as well be at the Fox Cabaret in East Van  or somewhere along Ossington in Toronto's West End. I feel a strong aversion, but I can’t ignore the reality that— as a hip looking white dude am the epitome of the very demographic I'm reacting to. The price of my concert ticket could support the family of the guy I bought the poster from for a few weeks at least. I try to wash away my discomfort in the cold suds of a Miller Genuine Draft. They aren’t even selling Peruvian beer in here. Wouldn't be global enough I guess. Anyways, I’m not one of those hypercritical depressed developmental studies types, and I’m still stoked as hell; the energy of the crowd is rising steadily.

By the time Tame Impala comes onstage I’m in a an amazing headspace, and one that I can’t say I’ve actually experienced before. Alvvays had obviously knocked it out of the park. I think juxtaposition of this music with this environment was as dreamlike for them as it was for me. It was their first time playing in Peru. It warmed me to see my musical heroes cracking smiles onstage, looking at each other in surprise above a crowd trying with all their might to passionately sing and dance along despite the language barrier. But music doesn’t know language barriers, that’s the cool thing. Unlike probably everyone else in the whole crowd, it was my 5th time seeing them, and I knew nearly all the words to nearly all their songs. Molly Rankin’s disquieted crooning got me through the cold fall months during the breakup of my university relationship in Toronto; Their triumphant pop hooks were among the first songs to which I drove my camper van into the Vancouver island sunset the day I bought it. Their beachy guitar tones got me and my pal Kevin stoked in the mornings during our California surf trip. It’s hard to describe the palpable surreality I felt when Molly was serenading me with her songs, which to me are some of the most familiar in the world, here in this profoundly unfamiliar latin american city.

Between sets, Caro and I sit down on the tarmac. It’s quieter down there, darker, our own private space on a forest floor, a respite from the smoke and loud spanish bro-banter of the canopy. Only thing was that the tree trunks were sweaty and hairy and were prone to jumping and kicking occasionally in excitement. For a few seconds, a shaft of light pierces through to shine on Caro’s face, bathing her cinnamon coloured skin in a warm green. Beautiful, half smiling, tranquil. Then it’s dark again.

I imagine it must be strange for her, invited out to this show with a naive and smiley gringo, who she’s known for little more than a few weeks. Tomorrow, we’re going to see Alvvays play again, a side-show in Barranco with two South American indie bands, one of which she’s friends with. Her idea. She has become a companion and teacher to me. Calm, kind, reflective, and an amazing conversationalist, she’s like a breath of fresh air among the jostling, dusty, noisey, and sweaty daily life here in Lima. Like sitting in the leg-forest beneath the crowed, my time with her is a respite from the chaos of life here; it is not found by leaving or running away, but rather by quieting ourselves and adopting new orientation within the same environment. Our lives are profoundly different, and in the short time I’ve known her she’s already taught me many things. She speaks softly and often in metaphors. I know I’ll continue realizing things I’ve learned from her long after we part ways.

We stand up when the energy of the crowd tells us too. Tame Impala comes on stage and delivers one of the best damn concerts I’ve ever been to. While Alvvays was endearing, comfortable, and familiar, Tame Impala is epic and majestic, a swirling and textured sonic jacuzzi, seamlessly weaving catchy pop melodies together with strange synth modulations, time changes, and disorienting visual displays. It’s sexy and hypnotic. It’s powerful and pulsing. For 90 blissful minutes I forget entirely about Raggaeton music. We’re caught in a bouncing mob of teenagers screaming in thick accents and broken English,  “Let eet happuhhhhn, let eet happuuuuuuuuhn!!!” I don’t even care that for most of the show I have the sweaty hands of some Peruvian dude on my shoulder as he jumps and pushes forward, screams and sings loudly. Even though he doesn’t know many of the words, let alone what they mean, that doesn’t stop him from trying with all his might to be a part of the concert. He and his friends, like the fountain swimmers, are anything but passive observers. Life’s too short to merely watch. I look at Caro and we laugh, then we lose ourselves in the music again.

Photo borrowed from one of the event photographers that night^^