A lot has changed since Wally De Backer, better known as Gotye, made his American television debut on Jimmy Kimmel Live in February. His number one single “Somebody I Used To Know” has lifted him to international success and his follow-up, “Eyes Wide Open,” hit number one on the Billboard Hot 100 as well in April. He’s been featured on everything from NPR to Saturday Night Live to Glee, and on Tuesday, September 4th, Gotye stopped by The Greek Theater here in Los Angeles as part of his five-month world tour. The following day, De Backer spoke with the LA Music Blog about his performance and how he aims to create a show that pushes him physically and musically to his limit while showcasing new aspects of his songs, both instrumentally and visually, for his fans.
When an artist like Gotye achieves such success, you almost expect either a compromise of artistic values or an overpoweringly large ego (trust me on this, I work in the movie business). But when Gotye addressed The Greek’s audience, he was more affable and humble than expected. This Australian demonstrated the talent of a world-renowned musician while maintaining the humility of an artist just beginning their journey.
The Greek Theater was filled to the brim as De Backer opened with “The Only Way” backed by a band that provided funky bass riffs, wailing harmonized vocals, and solid percussion elements the entire evening. De Backer beat out an incredible drum solo during an extended jam session, proving his talents stretch well beyond vocals, but he admits it wasn’t easy, telling LA Music Blog, “It takes a lot of focus to sing well and then have one part of your brain triggering samples and drums in between all the vocals, but I think the toughest is singing on the drum kit for six minutes.”
You would never have guessed De Backer was struggling, though, as he ran with boundless energy from drums to synthesizers to tambourine during each song, never settling in one place too long. He revealed that it is difficult to find that drive night after night: “Sets [on this tour] are longer than previous tours. They’re around an hour and forty minutes and that takes a lot of energy. It’s a tough show. Generally the vocal limits are at the limits of my range, singing very high or very low and husky.” De Backer belted his Phil Collins-esque choruses during “Easy Way Out” with impressive focus and control, but it was equally captivating when he sang quietly because the audience knew how much power was behind his voice and the anticipation built for another amphitheater-filling chorus. That perfect mix carried song after song.
De Backer gave a hypnotic performance, particularly when he entered into extended versions of his songs. “Sometimes I add things for the audience and take a break from singing, turning my attention to another instrument or some part of the stage,” he explained. “Sometimes I feel like we could try to open the arrangements up more so [everyone] can enjoy the time on stage. That way, I can directly connect with the audience more rather than being so focused on the material. That’s integral to my music and how the show works.”
And the material is multilayered in Gotye’s performances. Whether he is pounding drums during the chorus of “Eyes Wide Open” while a pedal steel guitar sings over top or calculatingly conducting an endless symphony of electronic noises, samples, and sounds during “Smoke and Mirrors,” every song is a masterpiece. De Backer explained what goes into each song’s performance: “It’s a matter of making decisions of what is the best arrangement to play live and what is possible. There are moments in the show where I’m probably trying to do a little too much. During ‘Dig Your Own Hole,’ I’m playing synth samples on a launch pad, percussion samples on two pads and a floor tom. It’s a very low vocal too, perhaps the most difficult in terms of range, but I try to do as much as I can.”
Most songs during Gotye’s set came complete with their own perfectly synched music video featuring a range of shooting styles and subject matters. Colorful backdrops rotated abstract images during “Dig Your Own Hole,” an anime video was featured during “Easy Way Out,” and a two-dimensional stop-motion video played during “What Do You Want.” De Backer sometimes worries that “the visual aspects might be a distraction from the fact that so much of my music is composed, but I want to give people some other dimension and something to look at.”
The videos added a burst of energy and another level to the show, an element De Backer noticed when seeing an LA local this week: “I went to see Steel Panther on Monday, and the energy of their set is all balls-out pop rock, and so much of that engaged the audience. That’s a very different energy [from my show] and wouldn’t make sense in my set. The inclusion of visual material to me provides that energy. I hope they add something interesting to the show. I also love working with animators and directors who I find really inspiring.”
Some of these artists’ videos have been online for some time, such as “State of the Art” and the lighthearted “Thanks For Your Time,” which featured the most bizarre and entertaining subject matter. Check out the trippy video below:
De Backer played a slew of slow, quiet songs, including the xylophone-heavy “Bronte” and “Giving Me A Chance,” featuring a low-strung guitar, omnichord, and telephones. “[These songs] are beautiful at The Greek because people are so quiet and the audience is so respectful,” De Backer said. “It’s a beautiful moment and I really enjoyed it because I’ve tried on previous tours to play ‘Bronte’ in some loud venues in bars with people yelling out drink orders. You want the audience to get a good experience out of the performance.”
All the songs were hauntingly beautiful and instantly relatable, like his breakout hit “Somebody I Used To Know,” which followed. It instigated the biggest crowd sing-along as De Backer encouraged audience participation. The crowd sang Kimbra’s entire verse loudly, out of key, and with the passion of a hundred listens. The closer, however, was the entrancing “Heart’s a Mess,” the epitome of a Gotye song: slow, powerful build; layers of controlled sounds and effects; and a hook that gets stuck in your head for days. For the encore, members brought out various horns and “Seven Hours with a Backseat Driver” led into the Motown-infused “I Feel Better.” He closed with “Learnalilgivinanlovin” and another thunderous dual drum performance.
After that evening’s concert, it was clear De Backer isn’t riding the one-hit wonder wave. He’s a powerhouse of creativity and hard work, and one song barely scratches the surface of his potential. His talent has caused the spotlight to be turned up brightly, but De Backer is affably open to the challenge of pushing himself past the sensational stage and onto more solid ground. With impressive talent and humility to match, Gotye’s just beginning this thrilling, wild ride.
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