Gotye and surprise guest Kimbra - Photo by Josh Roth

There are certain shows that you enter anticipating injury: Watch Lightning Bolt in an alley, and you’ll probably take an elbow to the face. Jump around to Andrew W.K., and chances are high that you’ll get kicked in the gut. But Gotye? Sweet-sounding, percussion-and-sample-loving Wally De Backer? Impossible, or at least I thought so until his drumsticks went sailing into the crowd at Bowery Ballroom last night and clocked me on the head.
Gotye, the king of CMJ 2011, arrived in the States this month to play two sold-out shows—one in L.A. and the other in New York—before heading to Europe for some more sold-out shows. (He’ll be back in North America in March for more dates, but most of those are, yes, sold out.) Yet despite its hot-ticket status, Gotye’s Bowery show didn’t feel cramped with bodies shoving to the front. It seemed that Gotye’s mild-mannered melodies attracted an older, wiser, slightly more polite, turtleneck-wearing crowd with an average age of 34 (math computation based on reviewer’s age + estimated age of screaming girl on left + estimated age of swaying, beer-spilling man in front, divided by 3). Last night’s set began shortly after 10 p.m. as De Backer and his four-piece band opened with “Eyes Wide Open” from Making Mirrors. Most of the songs from the 11-track set (plus three-song encore) came from this recent release, though he did include a couple of selections from his sophomore album, Like Drawing Blood.
De Backer’s default persona in his live show was shy though affable professional. He exchanged some friendly words with the crowd (and put on a bra that was thrown at him), but he was there to play, not chat. Rotating visuals, ranging from cityscapes to diluted pigment swirls, were projected on a giant screen behind the band throughout the show. Though there was a drummer in the group, De Backer surrounded himself with his own assorted drumkit, knocking away at it with a concentrated look on his face. Bass, guitar and synthesizer supported this double layer of live percussion, but only De Backer’s soaring voice matched the intensity of the rhythms. Most of De Backer’s songs require him to test the limits of his vocal abilities, whether by belting or standing on tiptoes to reach those high notes. He’s sometimes struggled with these challenges when performing hit single “Somebody That I Used To Know,” but he was on target last night. The spotlight was briefly stolen from him during that song when surprise guest Kimbra trotted onto the stage like a pitch-perfect, petite Bettie Page in a peach romper.
Gotye ended his set with the calm of “Bronte,” but he returned a minute later to punch everyone back to life with the trio of “In Your Light,” “I Feel Better” and “Learnalilgivinanlovin.” The regular set could’ve stood to have one of these more lively tunes dropped into it, maybe between the water-drop thump of “Heart’s A Mess” and the eerily slow crawl of “Don’t Worry, We’ll Be Watching You,” but you can’t really fault the man for ending the show in a state of party. And a satisfying party it was, although next time, I’ll be wearing a helmet.
01. Eyes Wide Open
02. The Only Way
03. Easy Way Out
04. Smoke And Mirrors
05. State Of The Art
06. Thanks For Your Time
07. Somebody That I Used To Know
08. Save Me
09. Heart’s A Mess
10. Don’t Worry, We’ll Be Watching You
11. Bronte
12. In Your Light
13. I Feel Better
14. Learnalilgivinanlovin