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Review: Gotye at 9:30 Club with Kimbra

Australian singer electrifies a sellout crowd

By Sam Sessa

Baltimore Sun

10:56 AM EDT, March 23, 2012

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It's good to be Gotye.

The Australian singer/songwriter played his first show in Washington, D.C.last night – an electrifying performance for a sellout crowd at the 9:30 Club. One thing’s for sure: The next time he comes to D.C., it will be at a much larger venue, like DAR Constitution Hall.

Gotye (pronounced go-tee-ay) owes much of his seemingly overnight success here to "Somebody That I Used to Know," an infectious breakup song that plants itself in your brain and refuses to leave for a few days. It's destined to be a Top 10 hit -- maybe even a No. 1 hit – in the U.S. (He's already huge in Australia and the U.K.)

Women love a good breakup song, especially when it's sung by a guy who looks like a more introverted version of Michael Hutchence. This explains why an overwhelming majority of the crowd last night was female. Don't judge him for that -- Gotye is a skilled songwriter with a remarkable range and a knack for turning a phrase. He's been at this for a while – first as drummer for the trio the Basics and then as a solo artist.

James Brown used to say that he liked to make every instrument sound like the drums. To a certain extent, that's also true with Gotye, who plays the drums himself. All the percussion gives songs like "Eyes Wide Open," which kicked off last night's show, an unmistakable urgency. It doesn't hurt that Gotye's four-piece band – drums, bass, guitars and keyboards/samples -- knows how to keep the pacing and instrumentation tight.

Most of the cuts were from Gotye's new album, "Making Mirrors." It has a little of everything, from Motown-inspired tracks like "I Feel Better" to "In Your Light," one of the happiest jams out there. Each song had a corresponding animated video, projected on a large screen at the back of the stage.

The freaky video for "State of the Art," which featured a maniacal organ attacking an unsuspecting family, saved an otherwise ugly experiment in vocoder/autotune. And "Don't Worry We'll Be Watching You," an especially spooky song which Gotye said was about Scientology, got an ominous introduction:

"Thanks for bringing the cherry blossoms out early for us," Gotye said. "Of course you have a darker side. We passed it today – the Church of Scientology."

Take that, Tom Cruise.

"Somebody That I Used to Know," which came just after the show's halfway point, was an exercise in karaoke, with the audience overpowering Gotye and his guest singer, Kimbra. She's a Kiwi with a promising career, who opened the show (more on her in a minute).

Gotye's performance, which lasted about an hour and 15 minutes, ended with a three song encore, capped by the bright and sunny "Learnalilgivinanlovin."

It might have been Gotye's first trip to D.C. But this felt like one of those shows you look back on five years later and say, "I remember seeing him at the 9:30 Club, back before he was famous." If last night was any indication, that's where he's headed.

Kimbra opened the show with a solid 30-some minute set of songs from her forthcoming album "Vows." It's been out in New Zealand since last fall but won't be released here until May 22. What's taking the record company so long?

Decked out in a ruffly red dress and matching lipstick, she put on quite a show last night. Her songs twist and turn in different directions; you never know where you might end up. She's animated, too, reaching out with her hands as if to snatch the notes from thin air.

Keep an eye on Kimbra. With songs like "Cameo Lover" and "Two Way Street," she's off to a promising start.

Here's a video of "Somebody That I Used to Know," which now has more than 120 million YouTube views. (It looks a little scandalous at first, but it's not.)