Review: Gotye, live in NYC at Radio City Music Hall

About three songs into the Gotye show at Radio City Music Hall, someone at the show turned to me and said “This is what happens when beautiful people make music.”

Initially I took it as kind of a joke. On stage were six men, each of whom looked like some sort of unholy cross between Adonis and a graphic designer. They were all playing various musical instruments. They were all playing them really well. They were even making those kinds of faces that professional musicians make when they “get really into it.”

The comment rattled around in my brain for a little while as I sat there and watched them. Behind them was a giant, giant screen projecting an insane array of cartoonish trippiness. During one song, a cartoon man unzipped his skin to reveal a bear, which in turn unzipped the bear costume, which revealed the original man, who then repeated the process. It was the kind of thing one might see in a CSI episode if a character got “really high” and went to “a rock show.”

The show ran like clockwork. In between one song, Wally de Backer (he being the singer/frontman/only truly recognizable face on stage) went over to a machine and started, well, he appeared to “fool around” on a keyboard. He even said “I don’t know how to play this thing! Haha!” After just a few seconds it became blindingly obvious that he not only knew how to play it but that he was using it to open the next song (the faux-reggae “State Of The Art”). Another incredibly good looking gentleman joined in. They played a song together – perfectly. They then smiled – perfectly – said something vaguely witty into a microphone, and then played another song.

Nothing was out of place. They were evenly spaced around the stage. They all wore cool button-up shirts with cool jeans and cool shoes; like they’d all showed up at a dinner party and brought some really good wine, too, (and that they were doing just great, thanks, thanks for asking, and yourself?) and maybe you’d like this song, no?

I liked the show. There wasn’t anything to dislike about it – they got in, they put on a show, they got out – it was genuinely like watching a Superbowl show.

Walking out into the lobby I overheard someone say the words “Huey Lewis” which, as those words are wont to do, immediately made me think just how great Huey Lewis is. I mean, dude wrote fuckin’ “It’s Hip To Be Square,” y’know? That guy is awesome. Anyway – it hit me – Huey Lewis had personality. Gotye (or Wally de Backer, and I can see why he goes by Gotye with a name like that) had everything but personality on stage. Which isn’t to say that it was a bad show.

The best live bands have an element that is hard to describe; an “x” factor, if you will, a “Je ne sais quoi” – that is French for… I don’t know what. The reason some bands are can’t-miss when they play live is because you’re never quite sure if the band is going to fall apart. I hate to use the Libertines as an example for anything but the Libertines were a great example of that: you could go to a show and not know whether you’d see the band get into a fistfight on stage or break up after the first song. They might fuck up a song. But those imperfections make the show unmissable; they create a tension that truly makes a band amazing. Fleetwood Mac might be another example. Guns N’ Roses, too. Even Miley Cyrus has an element of danger, if you think about it.

Gotye put on a great show, that’s the thing. They just put on a great show in the same way that the Harlem Globetrotters put on a great show, if the Harlem Globetrotters were all white and looked like impeccably good looking graphic designers or perhaps the ‘roommate’ role in a big-budget romantic comedy. At least when the Harlem Globetrotters play the Washington Generals the Generals score a couple of points.

Radio City Music Hall is a massive venue; even with 5, 6 people on stage, Gotye looked small on stage. Then, when you looked back behind them, you saw the giant cartoonish projections and it all made sense: as a package, it was brilliant. It was less a band playing than a giant multimedia performance. Of course the band was playing perfectly in time. The (probably) rehearsed banter was perfect. You know who else plays impeccably, with rehearsed between song banter? The Rock-a-Fire Explosion.

To fault Gotye for his professionalism would do me a disservice as a reviewer; all I can really do is say that it was a great show. I’m impartial to his music because I’m a believer in genre: Gotye makes songs for people in commericals and by that I mean people who exercise, have a golden retriever, and a great credit score. I will say, however, that nothing stood out as particularly good or bad about the show. Perhaps that’s exactly what Wally de Becker wanted. Perhaps that is what the audience wanted. Perhaps I secretly just wanted to watch incredibly good looking people get into a fistfight on stage at Radio City Music Hall.

It was probably the latter.