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Review Mon Aug 27 2012
It was an all-Australian cast on Northerly Island Friday night. Openers Jonti and Missy Higgins paved the way for radio darling Gotye and his band on a night filled with moonlight and lake breezes. Just a few days into his second North American tour of 2012, the crowds amassing were part curiosity seekers and part bargain hunters who'd scored a deal on tickets through Groupon. Attention spans were diminished, to be sure, but while there may have been some "concert tourism" going on in the stands, there was nothing but earnest professionalism coming from the stage.
Sound crafter Jonti opened up the night right on time with loops and sonic spins from an array of (perhaps homemade?) equipment on the stage. A lone figure in the fading light of the sunset, he didn't conjure much attention from the post-work crowd who'd snugged in close to the stage for prime spots. The second opener, Missy Higgins, fared much better with the crowd, which at least had some experience with her music. The stage lights were just warming up when Missy hit the stage and for three or four songs, her band seemed lost in a half-glow of stage lights that seemed an afterthought. By the end of her set, however, both the lighting and the crowd had warmed up to this wee singer. Backed by a band filled with fine harmonizing singers, and some great bass playing from fellow Aussie, Butterfly Boucher (who the local camera guys seemed to find very interesting, indeed), Missy did an all-around solid job of weaving through her hits and her new album. I wanted her songs to be a little harder, a little more in-your-face with emotion, but I don't think that's really Missy's style. She was sweet and charming and perfectly sing-a-long-able. I think her best qualities were likely lost on a crowd set against the backdrop of a Great Lake, and she'd do better in smaller venues with more wood paneling and hushed ambiance. Still, Missy did a fine job making the crowd her new best friends, and kept everyone fixated on the stage, wondering what was still to come from the headliner who followed her.
After what seemed like an eternity of focusing each individual light by the band's obviously perfectionist light designer, the main attraction finally took the stage. When I'd spoken with Gotye earlier, he remarked that the band was bringing redesigned visual accompaniment with them on tour. Having never seen the show, I expected some lighting swirls and maybe a few scrims. What I was confronted with, however, was much much more than that. Gotye's live show is an auditory and visual assault on the senses. Each song is paired with a perfectly synced music video of sorts, displayed on a large screen running the length and width of the back of the stage. Ranging from nightmarish cartoons, to ink swirls in tanks of water, each song comes with its own visual narration to pair with the words and music performed on stage. It reminded me of the very best of MTV before the network went all reality show, all the time. The utter synchronicity of the images with the live performances was an accomplishment in itself, but the fact that these visuals seemed to add a deeper quality to the narrative, even to songs that didn't have lyrics, was a treat for everyone in attendance.
Gotye really is something special to watch in concert. I wasn't sure what to expect, given his albums' seeming reliance on digital samples. However, the band he's assembled, and his own almost giddy percussion work, are something to appreciate in a live setting. He's at once all over the stage, going from a set of floor toms and snare to an elevated platform with some electronic drum pads placed at eye-level, to a set of electronic equipment and a melodica at center stage. He smiles the whole time. You get the feeling that live performance is the big payoff for Gotye. That all the time in the studio, crafting each song bit by bit is the work, and the live show is the play. When you can take your eyes off the animation behind long enough to watch him do his stuff on stage, he's really fun to watch.
But what of the song, you might ask? It was, afterall, the only thing that had brought some folks out Friday night. Songs leading up to the hit were sometimes teased out as he called to the audience "You might know this one," or "I might need some help singing this song." You could almost feel a collective gasp from each and every (let's face it) girl in attendance at these intros, only to be let down by it being "that other song." Then, he hit on it. The girl sitting two seats away from me squealed and sat forward literally on the edge of her seat. The girl behind me gave such a cry I thought she'd been slapped. And every single person took out their phone and started taking photos. The song went as planned, with no Kimbra (or even Missy Higgins) arriving on stage to sing the female vocals. Instead, wisely so, Gotye let the women in attendance fill in those soft verses towards the end. The effect was perfect. The song came off much smaller than you thought it might, with hushed vocals all around and a reined-in visual accompaniment.
Surprisingly, the visuals displayed for "Somebody..." weren't the highly parodied video. But seemed instead to be a much diminished version of the iconic artwork "painting itself" instead. I suppose this was a conscious choice to focus the attention to the performers on the stage, or maybe Gotye's just a little tired of seeing himself half-naked, covered in paint. Not surprisingly, about a fifth of the audience cleared out after the song was over. Gotye made a comment to the crowd before the next song started, "And thank you for staying. Can I assume that those of you still here have heard more than just the hit single?" And the remaining fans went wild.
There were just a few songs left before Gotye was hitting up against the city's noise ordinance that means no music after 11pm. He'd won over some new fans with his earnest presentation of his albums Making Mirrors (2011) and Like Drawing Blood (2007), but he'll always be saddled with that "one hit" and those that can't be bothered to see past it. "Somebody That I Used To Know" is a fine song, but I wonder if the curse of the super hit will be something that Gotye himself can get past as he continues to tour and record new music. I, for one, certainly hope so. I'm looking forward to the next show.
Setlist, Gotye @ Charter One Pavilion, August 24, 2012
What Do You Want?
The Only Way
Easy Way Out
Smoke and Mirrors
Thanks for Your Time
State of the Art
Seven Hours With a Backseat Driver
Don't Worry, We'll Be Watching You
Dig Your Own Hole
Eyes Wide Open
Somebody That I Used to Know
Heart's a Mess
Giving Me a Chance
The Only Thing I Know