The bright lights flicker before a video message from a questionable doctor displays on the giant screen. The doctor, perhaps from an inverted, utopian universe, instructs the crowd in a robotic voice about the effects of a substance called “Rushium.” The message begins to distort while the visuals become disfigured. A rush of synths and guitar announce themselves in a synchronized oscillation. The crowd cheers as they greet Kevin Parker, the creator of Tame Impala, who introduces his gentle presence with a “thank you” and bow. His signature psychedelia immerses the crowd with the song “One More Year” as an underlying tone of relief, sympathy, and forwardness rings throughout the lyrics. The song hits different, especially after the last two years we have all endured.
September 15th, 2021 marked the fifth stop for Tame Impala on their “Phase 1 Rushium Trials” tour, and the first concert for the Chase Center in San Francisco since the pandemic arrived in early 2020, almost a year and a half earlier. This long-awaited show required fans to show proof of vaccination, wear masks and distance themselves from others. I wondered what that meant for the enjoyment of a show like Tame, whose music is meant to bring listeners to their feet in a dream-like groove or psych-rock out. What would a concert look like in the era of the pandemic and would the constraints do any justice to the artist and music?
In normal circumstances, Tame Impala sells out shows all over the world. In this anomalous year, hundreds of seats were empty with only two-thirds of the general floor area full.
“I don’t know how fun it would be even though it’s Tame. I’d rather wait to see him at Outside Lands.”
While news outlets like NBC Bay Area reported that “SF’s Chase Center Hosts First Full Capacity Event in Over a Year with Tame Impala”, it was clear that 18,000 people were not there. Many people had tickets for the original concert on September 21, 2020, while others hoped the postponed concert would happen on March 13, 2021. By the time it was rescheduled again many had already requested refunds. Others became weary of displeasurable concert experiences due to covid restrictions. One friend told me, “I don’t know how fun it would be even though it’s Tame. I’d rather wait to see him at Outside Lands.”
There was lackluster attendance for someone of Tame Impala’s caliber, along with faceless crowds because of mask mandates and constricting seating arrangements due to the Chase Center’s design for basketball games. For many, dancing was not realistic. For Kevin Parker, reading the crowd’s face was difficult. Instead, he had to rely less on body language and more on voices from the crowd. Only half the affection could be expressed in response to the personal moment that Parker shared with us: “I’m going to be a dad.”
I was lucky to be able to attend. I never thought of going to a concert at the Chase Center before because I didn’t think that the luxury of the venue was intended for someone like me to enjoy. If anything, I would be sitting three stories up at the nose-bleeds, which would have cost the same amount, if not more, than the shows I go to at smaller, independent venues in San Francisco.
“Hi, I’m Justin and I’ll be your butler today.”
But I had fortune in the third degree that day. Through a love-related connection too long to recount, I ended up in a VIP box-lounge. I was one of their unexpected guests in this exclusive area for the rich, or for the lucky in my case. Here, free, unlimited finger food and bottomless Bulleit Bourbon were served by a personal caterer who introduced himself with a joke, “Hi, I’m Justin and I’ll be your butler today.”
Guests in the lounge were not only provided with attentive hospitality, but access to court-side seats where spaces were ample for dancing and proximity was close to the first-floor stairwell so that the caterer could bring us drinks in an instant. The culture shock, or rather,
class shock was real. Inside the VIP box-lounge, all masks were off and most demands were ready to be met. Out in the arena, I looked up and wondered if the constraints of Covid and seating concerned everyone but those with enough money or luck.
“If it calls you, embrace it, If it haunts you, face it.”
While I was amazed and out-of-element, this contrast offered me a different perspective from my usual concert experience, especially in the era of the pandemic. It is a challenge for any artist, even of superstar status, to cultivate a carefree spirit in themselves and their audience when Covid restrictions and accompanying challenges occur. Luxury should not be a prerequisite for the ability to dance in the space you’re owed with the ticket you’ve purchased, or for the ability to connect with the artist and each other through face and body language. It will be a sort of skill, at least for the next few months, to focus on the connective effects of music instead of the restrictions and disruptions that lead to disconnection.
If Tame could give us a shortcut on how to do so, he would sing a line from his song “Lost In Yesterday.” “If it calls you, embrace it, If it haunts you, face it.”