It is not easy to earn the right to dance on the El Club stage. The Southwest Detroit venue is a center for indie/alternative in the region, and is usually reserved for up-and-coming local bands who have put in the work, or popular touring groups who are playing off the success of new, well-polished records. On Tuesday night, though, the stage at El Club was packed with seemingly normal folks, dancing together like it was a typical night out.
The only extraordinary thing these folks had done was wait in a line that wrapped around the block of the venue at 10pm in middle of the notoriously cold Michigan Winter. With 36 hours notice, these fans answered the call to gather around with friends and listen to a Tame Impala album over fancy speakers.
The set up was the same in Denver, Kansas City and Milwaukee, where listening parties for the band’s newest record, The Slow Rush, took place yesterday. Detroit’s Tame Impala listening party was a special occasion that speaks to the band’s earned reputation, and the heights they have yet to conquer.
Tonight – Denver, Detroit, Kansas City and Milwaukee. Free entry. https://t.co/BY8MVViCyb— Tame Impala (@tameimpala) February 11, 2020
Fans inside El Club had lined up well in advance of the venue opening at 10pm, and showed up so well that the party’s doors closed with dozens of fans still waiting around the block to get in. Inside the venue, red lights set the mood for a room packed with humble excitement. By the time you made it into the room, the hype of waiting in line to hear the album changed. Instead, you had earned your right to post up, grab a drink, and wait for an album that fans have spend almost a half decade waiting for.
Many of these fans may have come in the time that passed between Currents and The Slow Rush, but those eager beavers balanced out with the inevitable share who has been following Kevin Parker since the beginning of the decade. Aside from online exploration and viral videos, it can be pretty hard to get a grip on the scale of pre-album excitement in the current era of record releases. Fans like myself reacted quickly to gather for this experience of starting Tame Impala’s The Slow Rush era with like-minded enthusiasts, and there was something powerful in that shared excitement.
Public listening parties for new record are nothing new in the album promotional cycle, but are often reserved for a higher level of pomp and circumstance. Kanye West’s debut of ye in Wyoming showcased the power West holds as a musician and celebrity. Next week, Ozzy Osbourne will hope to duplicate Tame Impala’s success with over 50 album release parties in tattoo shops around the world.
The Australian band’s use of these spontaneous pop ups in four seemingly random American cities is a uniquely powerful symbol of the band’s success. Tame Impala may be a popular band, but to command rooms of fans in four cities on one day’s notice without the band even showing up is a meaningful show of strength for any musician. The band’s ability to succeed at this selective approach to these free release parties is perhaps more powerful that scattering the record around the world.
Promptly at 10:30, with the doors closed and room jittery with cheer, the lights in El Club turn off, and a slow synth churn turned up on the room’s speakers. For the next hour, the record made its debut in a room more that stoked to hear it.
The infectious synths of “One More Year” took hold of the room’s excitement to get folks moving around on stage by the end of song. Most of the record sent the room on a swaying, head nodding trip. The instrumentation throughout the record give the synths the chance to drive the psychedelic refrains that usually rest in the guitars, placing the room somewhere between a dance and a trip on tracks like “Tomorrow’s Dust”.
The one-two punch of “Lost in Yesterday” and “Is It True” turned the room’s psychedelic vibes into a full on dance party, with the latter track sending off real Daft Punk Discovery vibes with its crunchy guitars between verses and infectious rhythm. Fans on stage jumped and shouted along to the pulsing beat of “It Might Be Time”, a full circle embrace of the excitement that the Detroit listening party embodied from its announcement to its finish.
Plenty of bands in this scene have had recent moments where their underground success have turned mainstream. The Black Keys and Arctic Monkeys have toured arenas and amphitheaters, but have moved onto major labels and high gloss sounds in the process. Arcade Fire may have played big arenas back on the Everything Now cycle, but their tour and the album it supported lacked the staying power to bring the band to transcendent commercial heights.
This listening party not only affirmed the band’s status of one of the biggest to stay the course of the 2010s indie universe in this new decade, but also their position as a standard-bearer of popular music altogether. In spontaneously packing a group of eager fans in the middle of Detroit on a Tuesday night without even showing up, Tame Impala made it clear that they have conquered the first level of indie popularity that few peer bands can move beyond.
These listening parties gave fans like myself the moment to revel in a pre-album release excitement that can be uniquely isolating for bands in this scene, and may look very different in the future as the band’s new record takes them to new heights of mainstream popularity. As the band prepares to take over arenas this year, these nights in clubs served as recognition of where their journey began, and the power of where they are about to go on The Slow Rush journey.