The crowd at Gotye’s sold out show at Bowery Ballroom on February 6th was a rare intersection of the indie and pop worlds. Historically, in America, these two highways used to merge every couple miles, giving drivers the choice to check out the scenery on either road for as long as they wished. Now they are parallel and unbending, with concrete medians ensuring everyone stays in their lane for the remainder of the trip. Gotye’s single “Somebody that I Used to Know” is a bulldozing breakthrough that begs to be played on repeat. The strange thing about Gotye is, while he might be one-hit wonder in America, to the rest of the world he’s an accomplished artist with a rich catalog reaching back eleven years. It’s clear he is appreciative of the support he’s garnered from the single, but has no intention of relying on “Somebody that I Used to Know” as his bread and butter forever. The obvious dissection of the crowd, split into fair-weather and die-hard, certainly made for an interesting night.
The opener was Sea of Bees, which, in this case, meant Julie Ann Bee and an acoustic guitar. The die-hards were huddled close to the stage, attempting to force the intimacy that a songwriter of this caliber deserves. Sea of Bees is Julie Ann’s project and, while she usually tours and records with a band, she is the heart of the material. Her appearance is unassuming and androgynous, leaving the performance naked and unaltered by a male gaze. She sang mostly new songs, with the inclusion of a few from previous records. Her closer “The Woods” sticks out as the most stirring. The song ended with Bee’s palm raised to the ceiling as her unaccompanied voice carried on like a modern day troubadour. Sea of Bees, in any incarnation, is consistently honest music.
The Bowery Ballroom filled almost instantaneously as the schizophrenic crowd flooded through the door for Gotye. His stage set up is a perfect blend of electronic and live elements. He surrounds himself in a world of percussion, and is constantly beating on pads, cymbals, MIDI controllers, and toms as he sings. The presence of a live rhythm section as opposed to triggered samples gave his eclectic sound the footing it needed to turn a head-bobbing crowd into a dancing one. Anyone familiar with his studio records, especially his latest effort Making Mirrors, knows that Gotye is a dynamic songwriter, and this holds true in his live shows. From the King Tubby-esque dub of “State of the Art” to the Steve Winwood reminiscent “In Your Light”, the show felt like a live rendering of a party mix-tape. An undeniable energy was present molding the conflicted audience into a single moving being.
Any doubts that existed about whether or not Gotye is a pop heartthrob were quickly squelched when a female fan threw her bra onstage, in true Tom Jones fashion. Unlike the veteran “Sex Bomb” singer though, Gotye adorned the undergarment for a full song, making it clear that his newfound celebrity is still a novelty, even to him.
Finally, the time came for the inevitable. The fair-weathers waited with bated breath as Gotye joked about butchering “Somebody that I Used to Know” by pitching his voice down a couple octaves with a vocoder while he sang. Although many of the people that bought tickets for only one song had already been converted by this point in the show, there was still a palpable pressure to perfectly execute the international hit and give the people what they wanted. Gotye delivered. What put this particular performance over the top was the surprise addition of the 22-year-old Australian songstress Kimbra, who popped out and absolutely nailed her brief but powerful verse.
Gotye is a brave artist, unafraid to try his hand at any number of genres on a single record. Instead of a disjointed mess of a live show, what he delivered at Bowery Ballroom was a riveting and always fresh concert that had the power to move people. Whether or not he will have another smash like “Somebody that I Used to Know” is inconsequential to his future success. For the moment, however, he has accomplished something noteworthy, by creating music with the restored faith that pop and indie fans may change lanes freely once again.
Sea of Bees