Gotye live @ Wilton’s Music Hall
When tickets went on sale (very quietly) for Gotye’s gig at the small and gorgeously historic Wilton’s Music Hall, I had a hunch it would be my first and last chance to see Australian wonderboy Wally de Backer. The buzz was building (thanks to that ubiquitous music video) and pretty soon it would mean bigger venues, worse sound, and higher ticket prices. A friend had speculated that it might be a dull show (“just a guy and a laptop of samples”) but I went with high hopes to the worn music hall.
Wilton’s Music Hall is what all old great venues wish they were—unrestored. There are water stains on the vaulted ceiling, little paint left on the carved balcony, exposed brick walls and rough wooden floors. It is the oldest grand music hall in the world, built in 1858, and has since been used as a Methodist missionary, rag warehouse, and shelter during the bombing of London. It now gets occasional grants for restoration and maintenance, but I hope they don’t ever get around to fixing it up too much. That day it had been announced that “Somebody that I Used to Know” had reached #1 in the UK, so I felt pretty lucky to see Gotye with only about 150 other people.
The stage setup seemed a bit strange until I remembered that Wally is first and foremost a drummer, since his time with Melbourne rock trio The Basics. The layout (a nearly-full kit sideways at the front of the stage) allowed him to drum from standing, when not singing or sampling. After charming and adorable opener Gabrielle Aplin’s acoustic set, Gotye kick-started the show with “Eyes Wide Open,” the galloping first single from 2011’s ‘Making Mirrors‘. It was an ideal opening tune because Wally got to do a bit of everything—sing, twiddle with a sampler, and drum viciously. Between that and the fully-involved band, any concerns of the guy-with-a-laptop scenario were quickly dispelled.
The set included a great mix of highs and lows in terms of tempo and energy—slow jams like “Smoke and Mirrors” and “Bronte” (the latter performed with help from The Webb Sisters (Leonard Cohen’s vocalists) punctuated the upbeat romps that give the album its joyful Motown feel. The only real downside was the flow of pushy-shovey photogs nosing in front to get their shot, but I guess that is to be expected the week you go #1.
I was curious to see how the band would tackle “Somebody that I Used to Know” without Kimbra to vocalize the second half; my YouTube trolling had told me that either A) Kimbra would surprise us all and slink out from backstage to great squeals of audience excitement, or B) they would line up her vocal tracks and the band would awkwardly bob along. But when the moment came, Wally introduced a friend from Belgium, none other than Noémie Wolfs of Hooverphonic, to sing the part. She was perfection from the first note to the last wail, and actually looked a fair bit like Kimbra, so the song had all the lively energy and stage chemistry you could ask for.
The energy of the set and the audience seemed to increase throughout, so by the time they left the stage for four minutes to let you wonder about an encore, the hall was buzzing with anticipation. Gotye wisely capitalised on this excitement with an encore performance of three of the brightest, most clap-happy uptempo songs in his repertoire: “In Your Light” and “I Feel Better,” with audience participation hand claps, and finally “Learnalilgivinanlovin.” The last, from his previous album, has a Golden Oldies sound with a driving drum track—the perfect closer for a show that had ranged through the last six decades in terms of inspiration, samples, and feel.
I read a review the next day in the Standard by John Aizlewood that was more than usually bad. Normally I’d chalk that up to the generally poor quality of anything that finds its way onto the pages of that evening-commute shoe-rag, but I’ve seen this review circulated and used by many other sites and papers. The bit that bothered me about this review was that Aizlewood attempted to steer Gotye in the direction of a one-hit wonder, the wide-eyed Aussie startled by commercial success with his one fantastically popular single.
He literally suggested that Gotye would have trouble filling the 70-minute set, since surely the crowd would only know that one song. The problem with his theory is that this show at Wilton’s sold out in less than 2 hours back in November—long before “Somebody That I Used To Know” was charting anywhere but in Australia. His assumption must also seem silly to any who attended the show, since the highlight of the night, the song that really brought down the house, was actually “Hearts a Mess,” the haunting single off Gotye’s equally stunning but more downbeat album ‘Like Drawing Blood‘, released back in 2006.
I also read an idiotic review by someone from the Guardian who referred to “Somebody That I Used To Know” as having “minimal production.” Now, no Gotye song could possibly deserve such praise, since a track crafted entirely through production and post-effects hardly qualifies as ‘minimal’ in the production department. Secondly, Wally willingly admits that the single itself took 9 months to prepare and get exactly right, even before adding Kimbra’s vocals—longer than anything else on the album.
I guess if I had to throw stones at every concert review written by a journalist who knew very little about the band in question, I’d have, well, killer biceps on my throwing arm.