Thursday, March 1, 2012

Live review: Gotye in Shepherd's Bush

Here is the singer’s eternal quandary: What do you do during the instrumental bits?

It’s a tough moment to get right, with no one correct answer. Here are just some of the possible solutions.

The Liam: Stand still. Look menacingly at the crowd.

The Beyonce: Shake bottom. Shake hair. Repeat.

The Tim Booth: Flail around like a pony chewing through a power line.

The Florence: Turn to face drummer, raise arms. Hold position.

The Jacko: Repeated genital touching.

Last night at the Shepherd’s Bush Empire, Gotye showcased an option I’d never seen before. Surrounded on three sides by a variety of esoteric percussion instruments, he would periodically break away from the microphone to bash things with sticks.

The most interesting gadget was a hybrid drum machine and xylophone (I believe it’s called a MalletKat), which he used to trigger samples of everything from violins to wobbly-bobbly basslines. On his left-hand side was a rack of tom toms and cymbals, which were thrashed inside out in a series of drum duels.

The gimmick could have created a distance between Gotye and the audience, but it drew me deeper into the music. The sounds coming out of the xylophone thingy could easily have been produced by a keyboard, but the kinetic energy required to operate the machine focused my attention on the music at a point when normally I’d be thinking "is it time for another beer yet?"

If you need proof, here’s a video of him performing Eyes Wide Open on Jimmy Kimmel a couple of weeks ago.

Gotye – Eyes Wide Open

Lest this all sounds a bit Jean Michelle Jarre, I hasten to point out that Gotye’s music is refreshingly pretension-free. His lyrics are heartfelt and understated, while the songs range from spooky robot rock (State Of The Art) to surprisingly spritely Motown pastiche (I Feel Better).

Former number one single Somebody I Used To Know was lithe and funky, guest vocalist Kimbra appearing from the side of the stage to give her lyrical sparring partner the evils. At the other end of the scale, the hushed whisper of Heart's A Mess managed to bring the audience to a standstill – no mean feat in the notoriously chatty Empire.

Towards the end of the set, Gotye mentioned this was his last date in London "for quite a while". Some people were vocally unhappy – but his reply was superb: "That’s alright, you can listen to the records. They’re magical, they happen again and again."

Ain't that the truth.

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