Swirling red and blue paisley projected from the overhead lights and the stage was an atmospheric cloud of smoke. The room, tinged with pot, held an eclectic mix of flower children, fangirls, and aged rockers. It was 1967 — well, really, it was Friday, September 19, 2014, but it certainly felt like the Summer of Love had risen again. Walking into Venue was like taking a step back in time and it was all for Temples, the psychedelic English rock band whose acid-washed debut, Sun Structures, has been widely lauded as one of the best of the year; upon hearing them live, it’s an evaluation difficult to disagree with.
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Openers Wampire fit right into the evening’s wave of nostalgia with their long hair, leather jackets, and glam-smeared pop. With a power chord and a gust of smoke, the five-piece dove into “Fly on the Wall,” a dreamy, reverb-heavy track off their latest album, Bazaar. Playing a mixture of the new record (which, said singer/guitarist Rocky Tinder, had just arrived in the mail and was having its release party on the merch table) and 2013’s Curiosity, the set was layered with dynamic arrangements that retained intense, yet easy, energy. Tinder and bandmate Eric Phipps switched lead vocal and guitar duties seamlessly, and the mostly instrumental “Too Stoned” was pure sex — guitars wailed, bassist Cole Browning meshed heartily with Owen Thompson’s keys, and drummer Thomas Hoganson thumped in frenzy.
Sounding like the lovechild of Pink Floyd and the Yardbirds — looking the part, too, from their shags down to their vintage oxfords — Temples nod to the enigmatic customs of British psychedelia. The band took the stage to a flutter of claps and, after a quick greeting, launched into Sun Structures‘ title track, weaving technicolour riffs with sugary jangles and droning fuzz. Mystical jaunt “Colours to Life” saw corkscrew curled frontman James Bagshaw evoke the sparkly spirit of Marc Bolan as he — facing drummer Samuel Tom’s silver-glittered kit with his back to the crowd, blue-lit smoke curling around his legs — delivered the twinkly opening licks on his guitar.
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Though the angelic harmonies of “A Question Isn’t Answered” and the ramble-tamble of “Shelter Song” showed off Temples’ virtuoso, it was the infectious stomp of B-side “Ankh” that let it all hang out, crossing off each member in a checklist of artistry: Bagshaw’s sauntering croon and nimble fingers dancing over warbling strings; fellow curly-cued Adam Smith’s versatility, helming both guitar and keyboard; bassist Thomas Warmsley’s groovy lines; Tom’s frenetic percussion. The band’s transcendence is not a gimmick nor is it ironic — rather, their keen eye for accuracy deems them as authentic time travellers visiting from the dark side of the moon.
It’s perhaps an indication of brilliance when the end of a show feels it came achingly early. Temples’ hallucinogenic tones took the audience on a honeyed trip into a kaleidoscopic world and left the encore-hungry crowd satisfied with “Mesmerise,” the interstellar blast that extended into a Zeppelin-esque jam. To quote the goofy-grinned lad on my left, “Is there any way that could have been less amazing?” Likely not.