Photos | Review | Gotye | Santa Barbara

Words & Images by: L. Paul Mann

Gotye :: 09.08.12 :: Santa Barbara Bowl :: Santa Barbara, CA

Full review below photo gallery!

On a beautiful balmy end of summer Saturday night, September 8, the creator of one of the year’s biggest pop hits played a brilliant debut concert at the Santa Barbara Bowl. In what has become the norm of late for many of the shows at the venue, less than 2000 people showed up despite massive ticket giveaways and reduced ticket prices. The half empty bowl, which holds up to 4500 people, seemed hollow and cavernous with so few people. Although it was disconcerting that people were buying tickets at the door for $19.00 and sitting in seats next to people who paid over $50, it was a preferable alternative to an empty house. In fact the promoters should offer discount tickets the day of the show to most of the summer shows that see flagging sales. Or better yet they should just price the shows more reasonably to start with, since it is hard these days for working folks to come up with a hundred dollars or more for a pair of tickets to a show. If the Santa Barbara Bowl wasn't such a beautiful venue most of the shows there simply wouldn't be worth the price of admission. What was even more remarkable was the high percentage of pre- teens in attendance for a show with such a hefty price tag. You know you are in Santa Barbara when the pricey front rows seats are filled with grade school kids. Part of the reason for the light turnout was that, many people still don't know who Gotye is, despite his huge hit song. Walter De Backer is a Belgian Australian singer, who has been making music for a decade. He took the name Gotye, derived from the French version of his name Walter, which is Gauthier. He has released three studio albums under that moniker plus a remix album. He also performs with the Australian Indy pop trio, The Basics.

The sparse audience did not detract from what was a fascinating and entrancing evening of multimedia and music. A few hundred people had arrived at the Bowl for opening act, Chairlift, who took the stage just before sunset at 7:15 pm. Actually, the opening set was performed by new Australian experimental electronic pop vocalist, Jonti. Unfortunately, most everyone missed his short set, which began at 6.30, a half hour before the show time stated on the ticket. It is always a good idea to call the box office at the venue as it is not uncommon for them to move around the concert schedule when multiple acts perform. The New York synth pop group Chairlift, played an interesting 45 minute set, led by its founding members, Caroline Polachek on vocals, and Patrick Wimberly on a variety of instruments. The band played a haunting synth-drenched set of music reminiscent of another New York band, Blondie, but with a layer of euro electronica on top. While the music was interesting, the mix suffered from a muddy mingling that convoluted the sound. It was hard to decipher the vocals from the music at times. In what was to be a telltale moment, singer Polachek chatted about spending a wonderful day at the beach with Gotye and admiring Santa Barbara's abundant ocean environment complete with jumping dolphins and barking seals. It answered the question for many in the crowd, who might perform the female vocals on Gotye’s huge hit song.

Gotye and his band hit the stage right on schedule at 8:30 pm as dusk quickly turned to dark in the late summer sky. It was apparent from the moment the band began to play, that the show was designed for a much larger audience, and the result was an awesome spectacle for the small crowd wrapped tightly around the front of the venue. A massive video screen in the back projected magical animations, each one crafted in a different theme and in multiple mediums to fit each corresponding song in the 90 minute set. The result was a spectacular presentation of animation rivaling any late night animation festival ever exhibited. On the sides of the stage, two large screens broadcast high definition video of the band, giving every seat in the venue a crystal clear view of the action onstage. It is hard to believe that a venue of this size does not offer video projection as a standard enhancement for every performance in this technological age. But it was well appreciated on this night. Gotye and his band immediately set out on a beautiful musical journey right from their opening number. The band sounds a bit like an Australian version of Sting on his first solo project. In fact, Sting’s 1986 appearance at the bowl to showcase that album, (The Dream of The Blue Turtles), had many similarities in music and style to the Gotye show. The band also exhibited influences of Aboriginal and African rhythms, some similar to the sounds of South African pop singer Johnny Clegg. It was no surprise that Gotye led the group with his strong and uniquely haunting voice, but his musicianship was a great surprise. Playing a series of percussion instruments and keyboard devices, he leapt about the stage from song to song to pick up a different rhythmic instrument on almost every track. He even jumped on the main drum kit occasionally, leading the group into a variety of percussion driven beats. His extraordinary band of talented multi-instrumental musicians forged a tight backdrop to Gotye's ever changing beat. The sound system exhibited a heavy bass laden beat similar to a techno dance beat. At one point, the band paused to take a page from German electronic music pioneers Kraftwerk and played a set with just synth keys and rhythmic sticks. The scene was reminiscent of the last Duran Duran concert at the Bowl several years ago. That band in a similar style, paid homage to Kraftwerk, by lining up and playing an all synth segment. Gotye and his bands' version was fresh and full of life, with band members seeming to be in an ecstatic trance. By the time Caroline Polachek came back out to help Gotye sing his mammoth hit song, “Somebody I used To Know”, the moment was almost a moot point. The band, aided by Polachek singing the chorus made famous by Kimbra, (who is appearing at the Ventura Theater, on September 30), nailed the song perfectly, and had the crowd singing along so well it sounded like there was a full house. But the song really just fit into the entire set like a piece from a rhythmic puzzle.

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[Published on: 9/26/12]

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