Tuesday, April 10
Last night the Showbox SoDo hosted two of pop music's most buzzed-about artists--the 22-year-old New Zealand vocalist>"/>
Last night the Showbox SoDo hosted two of pop music's most buzzed-about artists--the 22-year-old New Zealand vocalist Kimbra and the Belgian-Australian artist Wouter De Backer, who goes by the stage name Gotye. Gotye and Kimbra's duet "Somebody That I Used To Know" is turning out to be one of 2012's biggest hits; after sitting high on the charts all year, the song hit #1 on iTunes just yesterday. The crowd that gathered to see them perform was one of the most age-diverse I've seen--teenagers with glow sticks and their goddamn camera phones; mom-and-daddisly dressed older couples who could be their parents; a couple of elementary school kids; even some bearded, flanneled guys.
Kimbra, in a poofy baby blue dress, opened the show with a set of her cabaret-flavored pop tunes. If you've heard "Somebody That I Used To Know," you know that Kimbra is a power vocalist--in that song, when she hits the high note in the climactic line, "And I wouldn't catch you hung up on somebody that you used to know," it's like she's punching Gotye in the face. Live, her voice is just as commanding; she sings backed by a four-piece band and frequently smacks a tambourine along with the music. She's one of those singers who can effortlessly transition from singing prettily to singing aggressively; last night that versatility was best exhibited on her cover of Nina Simone's "Plain Gold Ring," in which she looped layers upon layers of her vocals, sometimes chanting, sometimes belting. Kimbra at one point stopped to apologize to the Seattle audience for not preparing a grunge cover, deadpanning, "Alice In Chains is usually a regular of ours."
Gotye opened his set with the first single off his current album, Making Mirrors, the skyscraping epic "Eyes Wide Open"; a wide screen in the back projected images of moving clouds and an exploding volcano (the screen's short films, most of them animations, changed with each song--a man unzipping himself to become a bear, Barbies with their plastic faces peeled off, a dot-eyed girl running through the woods with a herd of forest buffalo). It's interesting to witness and realize that Gotye is not only the singer and songwriter of the country's biggest pop song, he's also a fantastic percussionist. Sharing the stage with a quintet of backing musicians, Gotye encloses himself in a circle of drums, drum pads, including two set up at his eye level, a xylophone, and, for one song, a tiny cymbal the size of a silver dollar. He's clearly fond of indulging himself and impressing the audience with frequent percussion breaks--at one point he referred to his and his bandmates' enthusiasm for all their "toys"--but his greatest instrument is still his voice. Gotye has the fine, granite-smooth vocals of Peter Gabriel. He hits every note he reaches for with beautiful precision.
I don't know that Gotye will achieve the same level of mainstream success as he has with "Somebody That I Used to Know," at least with his current crop of songs. Right now he seems to be more of an experimentalist than a hit maker. His newest single, "Easy Way Out," is a hard rocking number; "In Your Light" and "I Feel Better" play like sunny Motown tunes; on "State of the Art," his band plays reggae grooves while he pitches his voice down an octave, morphing it into something deep and blurry. Gotye's shapeshifting ways are similar to Kimbra's, who's released one bright dance-pop single called "Cameo Lover" and another one, "Good Intent," that's all jazzy R&B. Neither seems to have settled on a specific sound, but neither appear to be in a rush about it either--they're having too good of a time experimenting with dashes of everything.
"Somebody That I Used To Know," when it did come, was interrupted by spatters of screams--when the familiar xylophone melody played, when Kimbra joined Gotye on stage, wearing the same sparkly number she wore on Jimmy Kimmel last month, screams for Gotye to take his shirt off (actually, that request was repeated throughout his entire set, from beginning to end). Gotye's voice easily projected over the noise, but it was difficult to hear Kimbra's softer lines over the voices of the audience singing along. Even so, I can't remember the last time I heard two people sing so perfectly beautifully. And Gotye was gracious about all the racket. He grinned as the song concluded, saying, "Thanks for helping us perform."