NEW YORK -- The crowd at the Bowery Ballroom on Monday night was there to see Gotye, the alter ego of Belgian-Australian musician Wouter De Backer, play songs off his newest album, "Making Mirrors."
Well, to clarify: they were there to watch him play his hit song, "Somebody That I Used To Know," from his newest album, "Making Mirrors," the video of which has already been seen upwards of 60 million times on YouTube -- a startling number when compared to the 50 million views for Lady Gaga's "The Edge of Glory" and the 30 million for Miley Cyrus' "Who Owns My Heart" -- and won countless awards and singles chart-slots overseas.
Only in the past few months has the song begun to invade the United States with the same level of excitement. In Australia, it sat atop the singles charts for eight weeks, making it the highest charting song there since Savage Garden's "Truly Madly Deeply" in 1997, and it's also hit number one in countries as varied as New Zealand, Ireland, and Austria. In Poland, it stayed at number one for a record 16 weeks.
Its the kind of tune you send to friends because you can't stop listening to it, and the kind of video worth repeated views: a simple, startling image beautifully animated. Like contemporary internet-music-video-queen Lana Del Rey (whose "Video Games" has barely half the views of "Somebody), Gotye owes much of his American success to the warm reception that video has received the world over. Niche celebrities as varied as Josh Groban and writer Susan Orlean have Tweeted about him recently.
In a similar mold to Del Rey, the internet-famous song is getting actual radio play in America -- something most indie-tinged tracks can hardly dream of. KROQ in Los Angeles has Gotye and Del Rey in rotation, as do other stations nationwide. A strange fit, perhaps, for these quiet songs that don't seem quite tailor-made for modern rock radio.
But unlike the more amateur Del Rey, De Backer had years of experience playing onstage with his band, The Basics, and under the Gotye moniker since the early 2000s. If he ever goes on SNL to perform his own Big Song From The Internet, he will have had a bit more time to prepare.
Last October, Gotye performed his very first New York show as part of the CMJ Festival. Flanked by hundreds of indie bands over the course of the long week, Gotye was a standout, and fans entranced by the video for "Somebody" turned out to sing along. After that show, The New York Times' Jon Pareles compared him favorably to Sting, with their similar "globe-hopping ear for rhythms and timbres" and their "crisp sense of song construction that can reach back to the 1960s or drift toward reggae and exotica."
And on Monday night, Gotye returned to New York and a sold out crowd. With hardly enough room to move or dance, fans watched, immobile but appreciative, as Gotye and his band pounded through musically diverse though occasionally forgettable tracks off of "Making Mirrors," waiting for the song they had come to see.
They politely whooped after tight, well-produced songs like "Eyes Wide Open," which is the best modern dance song Peter Gabriel never wrote, and "Smoke and Mirrors," a noir-ish anthem that builds to a pounding climax, as animated projections blared in sync to the beat.
When it finally came time to play the song everyone was waiting for, the guy standing next to me said, "Already?" and then begrudgingly removed his cell phone and started filming the stage. Truth be told: Gotye's set, which lasted a bit over an hour, was about three-quarters done. So it seemed as good a time as any.
De Backer joked with the audience that perhaps he'd sing the song in a creepy low-octave vocoder. Nobody laughed; they didn't want anyone messing with the song they'd come to see.
And as the band played, crisply and assured, it remained a bit puzzling that this song is as catchy and perfect as it is. Its simple verse line sounds straight out of a modern folk-rock tune, nothing out of the ordinary, with the Brazilian guitar sample plugging along in the distance. But then that chorus! The doubled vocals and easy-going nature of the whole thing. Kimbra, the 22-year-old Australian artist who guests on the song and in the video, came out from backstage in a black romper to sing her second verse and belt out some "aahs" during the final chorus.
But what's the secret? There's something bubbling underneath the surface throughout the track -- as if a palpable bridge or refrain is begging to come out. But it never does. It's a song you don't really want to end.
When it finished, a few people filed out, satisfied. Gotye then plowed ahead with a few more rollicking tracks, including the older, achingly earnest "Learnalilgivinanlovin," and the more downbeat "Bronte," which is apparently about his family friend's deceased dog. Even then, De Backer never really stopped smiling.
His almost entirely sold-out world tour continues all the way into mid-April, with a slot at the major California music festival Coachella.
The album, "Making Mirrors," is currently charting at 45th on the Billboard album charts.
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