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April 9, 2012

Gotye and Kimbra Please at Pease Auditorium [Review]

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Written by: Paul Kitti
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Photo by Bruno Postigo

“Are you excited to see Gotye?” asked opening act Kimbra on Monday night, unknowingly clearing up any confusion as to how his name is pronounced (G?-tea-?). While the obvious answer from the sell-out crowd was yes, no one was in any hurry to see Kimbra leave the stage. Anyone familiar with her music videos (see below) knew to expect some tasteful weirdness from the New Zealand pop star, and she delivered on all cylinders. She even managed to make her backing drummer look normal (he was sporting a tube-fro, a

Kimbra // Photo By Bruno Postigo

Mickey Mouse t-shirt, and a cartoonishly thick gold chain). Her dress was some hybrid Cinderella/Alice in Wonderland creation, with the front end teasingly propped up slightly above her knees. I’ve heard comparisons to Lady Gaga and Katy Perry, and while those stick at first glance, they’re quickly forgotten when Kimbra starts doing her thing.

She was backed by a keyboardist, bassist, and multi-instrumentalist in addition to the drummer, who were all exceptionally talented for musicians working in the shadow of a huge personality. Moving around as much as one possibly can in six-inch heels, Kimbra’s routine consisted mainly of feet shuffle/single-knee-bend-into-slight-leg-lift/alternating shoulder shrug/shimmy backwards then repeat, occasionally rocking the tambourine. There’s a sort of 1950s faux-innocent charm to her stage presence that compliments her music nicely, which is kind of experimental indie-pop (think Florence and the Machine with added soul and dazzle). I could try to describe her voice, but hopefully you’ll check out some of her music on your own. She’s talented, strange, and immensely likeable, and nothing about her set felt like an opening act.

Kimbra – “Settle Down”

About twenty minutes after Kimbra exited with a sweet little “thank you, we’ll be back here really soon,” the lights of Pease Auditorium again dimmed and images of a red sun floating above a desert landscape came into view on the massive backdrop screen. Applause was low and scattered as five musicians entered and began composing atmospheric sounds on the dark stage. The mystery of the scene dissolved as the sounds began to form the familiar song “Eyes Wide Open” and the lights brightened to reveal the newly-familiar face of Gotye, the wiry Australian musician who reached the core of American musical consciousness in a blink. Those who weren’t already standing stood, and those who hadn’t been applauding were at least moving at that point, whether they were jumping, pulling out their camera phones or maneuvering for a better view.

Gotye // Photo by Bruno Postigo

It was a perfect opener, catchy and extremely energetic. That energy was impressively maintained the entire eighty-ish minutes as Gotye and his band gave the set fluid direction through moments of high-pulse pop, artistic electronic bravado and eerie strangeness. A note about the auditorium: it’s beautiful, with a great big balcony, a wide stage, that massive screen and a grand feel, but there were times the music seemed to get lost in the expansive space. Gotye’s music is intricate and dynamic, and very heavy on percussion, and seemed to bounce off the walls as if it was searching for a more ideal venue. Gotye himself commented on this at one point, but gave it a positive spin by saying that the acoustics of the place could work well with his next song, which was “State of the Art.” It’s one of those songs that kind of freaks you out the first time you hear it on the album, but then it grows on you. Performed live, it was a definite highlight.

The animations on the screen continued to change to match the feeling of the music, and sometimes switched from floating shapes and color swirls to short story-like sequences, such as in the video (posted below) for “State of the Art.” At one point, cattle were depicted drowning in clouds in black-and-white animation with broken crosses in the background. Weird. If this review is any indication, the images on the screen tended to distract from the actual show at times. Gotye himself was engaging, though he didn’t speak much. His stage persona leaked just enough musical geekiness and charisma, and reflected a fine balance between lead singer of a rock band and solo sensation. It’ll be interesting to see how he evolves as an individual artist in the American spotlight.

Unlike Kimbra, most of his energy was expended on instrumentation rather than dancing or whatever else singers who don’t play instruments do. While he moved about different instruments, including electronic organ, keyboards and sound effects boards (basically, a lot of really cool equipment I know nothing about), he commanded the drums with wizardry. Drum solos were no rare thing Monday night, and with two other musicians operating percussion it made for some interesting arrangements.

I suppose I should mention “Somebody That I Used to Know,” you know, the big super-hit single. Yes, he performed it, and yes, Kimbra entered a second before her part. It was performed perfectly, and I’d be lying if I said I didn’t watch from just beneath the stage with a giant smile on my face. But the show didn’t center around this moment; rather, it was another special moment among many.

Gotye performed almost the entirety of his album “Making Mirrors,” and even dedicated one of the songs to his “new Frisbee friends from the afternoon.” After he said his goodbyes, along with some good words about the musical history of Detroit and a promise to come back, the audience stood for the inevitable encore. A few people made their way to the back in attempts to beat the crowd on the way out, but no one could bring themselves to leave. The sell-out crowd remained in full numbers at the conclusion of his set, which says more about the quality of his performance than I can attempt to say in this review. After what seemed like a couple minutes of encore-hopeful applause, questions began to arise. Is the encore an American concept? Do Australians not understand? But surely he returned, opening a new three-song set with the resilient, multi-layered “In Your Light.”

Gotye is a fresh and inventive force in modern music, with enough weirdness to be unclassifiable and enough appeal to be, well, a chart-topping sensation. Here’s to hoping he makes good on his word and comes back. And Kimbra too. America could use a little more Australia.

To see all the photos from the show, check them out on our Facebook page.

Gotye – “State of the Art”

About the Author

Paul Kitti
Paul Kitti
Paul is another awesome member of the iSPY team.

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