The Washington Post

Gotye at 9:30 Club

Gotye’s set at the 9:30 Club included 10 of the 12 tracks on his third album and global breakthrough. (Kyle Gustafson/For The Washington Post)

It’s hard to describe Gotye without making him sound more exotic than he really is. The Belgian-born Australian, who performed at a sold-out 9:30 Club on Thursday night, is a multi-instrumentalist and studio wizard with a wealth of names: Born Wouter De Backer, he became Walter (or Wally) down under and took his stage name from a phonetic spelling of Gauthier, the French equivalent of Wouter/Walter. His music is basically British-style synth-pop, yet with more than a few classic-rock and -soul touches.

Gotye’s 75-minute set included 10 of the 12 songs from “Making Mirrors,” his third album and global breakthrough, plus four from its predecessor. The backup quartet’s lineup was the standard guitar, bass, drums and synthesizer, but the music’s emphasis was indicated by the instruments that surrounded the frontman: all keyboards and percussion. Gotye alternated frequently among them, and each of the other musicians at some point played synth, drums or both. During “Thanks for Your Time,” an older tune that suggested mid-’80s Scritti Politti, all five musicians clustered together to bleep or thwack, leaving the guitar and bass idle.

“Thanks for Your Time” was one of several numbers for which the amiable Gotye assigned simple vocal parts to the audience. Singing was as central to the music as synth-ing, with Gotye’s light tenor often pushed into its falsetto range or, for “State of the Art,” distorted by vocoder. The performer’s voice, often compared to Sting’s, was supple and reasonably versatile. But the evening’s crowd-pleasing vocal belonged to Kimbra, the opening act, who walked onstage to sing her part on “Somebody That I Used to Know” — the lilting busted-love lament that became a YouTube hit in the United States before “Making Mirrors” was even released here.

Despite his enthusiasm for percussion, Gotye was more inclined toward loping trip-hop than room-shaking dance music. “The Only Way” did feature a disco beat, and “Learnalilgivinanlovin” closed the show with perhaps 30 seconds of insistent synth bleat. But the musician was more likely to build a song around an acoustic guitar vamp that evoked ’70s Steve Stills (“In Your Light”) or a synth-trumpet fanfare that suggested Paul McCartney doing Stax-Volt (“I Feel Better”). Gotye may be a one-hit wonder, but his 9:30 show was a tutorial on four decades of pop music.

Jenkins is a freelance writer.

Show Comments
Most Read



Success! Check your inbox for details.

See all newsletters

Close video player
Now Playing

To keep reading, please enter your email address.

You’ll also receive from The Washington Post:
  • A free 6-week digital subscription
  • Our daily newsletter in your inbox

Please enter a valid email address

I have read and agree to the Terms of Service and Privacy Policy.

Please indicate agreement.

Thank you.

Check your inbox. We’ve sent an email explaining how to set up an account and activate your free digital subscription.