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Milwaukee's Daily Magazine for Monday, Oct. 20, 2014

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In Music

Gotye showed his versatility in a high-energy show at the Riverside Saturday night. (PHOTO: Erik Ljung)

Gotye delivers hipster heaven at the Riverside


I thought that Gotye had all the indicators of a one-hit wonder.

There's the name, first of all – unpronounceable and foreign-sounding (remember Gerardo of "Rico Suave" fame? Or Nena and her "99 Luftballons"? Didn't think so).

Then there's the sound – trippy, hipster indie-pop with the occasional xylophone.

And lastly, there's the song – that song. "Somebody That I Used to Know." A song so big, so ubiquitous, so parodied and from a musician so unknown … how else does this story end but in a tragically Vanilla Ice-esque manner?

I was hoping that Gotye was going to prove me wrong Saturday night at the Riverside. I was hoping we, the audience, would get to see more of the Belgian-born, Australian-reared Wouter "Wally" De Backer, that he'd let us in behind the persona of the body-painted, thin-lipped rejected lover from that famous music video.

And, drumroll please, he did. Happily, there's more to Gotye than meets the eye … or ear, rather, at least in the case of his inescapable radio hit. He's a dynamic performer, and his show tonight was a triumph of musical sensibility, technology and good old-fashioned know-how. If you want to hear the future of music, listen to an artist like Gotye.

I won't even attempt to name all the instruments that he played, because I didn't know the names and if I did I forgot them. There were just so many, but it was an interesting melange of old and new: traditional metallophones and synthesizers alike. Gotye's prowess on the drums was the most impressive of all.

I'll admit that I personally thought that "Somebody That I Used to Know" was the most interesting and moving song of the night, and clearly the tune that the audience came to hear.

This was made apparent by the clusters of young women drunkenly dancing in the middle of the aisles. Gotye's opening act, the gifted singer-songwriter Missy Higgins, came out to give an impressive performance during this particular duet. She brought a depth to the vocals to which even the original track cannot compare.

Gotye's other music was impressive but unorthodox – an eclectic blend of New Age electronica with a sprinkling of europop for good measure. He opened up the show with the up-tempo "The Only Way," a study in percussive mastery, and continued with "What Do You Want," featuring a seductive, pulsating melody. His song "Smoke and Mirrors" has a surprisingly funky feeling to it, with a strong bass guitar line.

A tune I found particularly effective was the funereal, high-pitched vocals of "Heart's a Mess." Ironically, of the entire setlist this is the song that most closely resembles "Somebody That You Used to Know." Perhaps it's not surprising – his biggest hit sounds almost nothing like most of his other music, and that's explained by the fact that Gotye does not have a mainstream sound.

Most of his music has an jittery and highly technology-driven feel to it that is nonetheless compelling; lyrics and voice parts are almost an afterthought.

If we see Gotye on the charts again, it will probably be with another vocal-driven song. He doesn't have many of those, but when he does produce them, they are incredibly effective. I don't think he's destined to be just somebody that we used to know.


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