Wouter De Backer (also known as Gotye, or the man who’s been dominating radio all summer) played the Santa Barbara Bowl this Saturday, and his show came with all the components of an enjoyable evening. Remove one piece from the puzzle, though, and the concert would have failed, simply because of the overall weakness of Gotye’s most recent album, 2011’s Making Mirrors.
The Aussie’s smooth and soaring voice (best exemplified mid-show with the cheerful anthem “I Feel Better”), his charming stage demeanor, the gorgeous animation artwork playing on the huge screen behind him, and solid opening sets from Jonti and Chairlift — topped with a 70-degree summer night — certainly added up to a pleasurable evening.
“I have to apologize for my wet hair this evening — I went to the beach with Gotye,” said Chairlift frontwoman Caroline Polachek as the sun went down and the Bowl filled up. “This place is magical.” Chairlift’s delightfully breezy 40-minute set was highlighted by their bubbly performance of “Bruises,” the N.Y.C. duo’s most widely known track.
Not long after, Gotye and his band took to the stage, along with a crucial ingredient to the show’s success: animations, which provided a stunning accompaniment to the night’s music. The projections ranged from completely abstract images to adorable narratives — one featured a magnificently colorful crew of elephants, crocodiles, and rabbits, à la Disney’s Fantasia — which nicely played off the headliner’s poppy hooks.
The trance-like melodies and largely repetitive lyrics of Gotye’s music worked onstage with these theatrics, but the truth is that none of his tracks have the widely relatable marketability, infectious likeability, or inescapable radio play of “Somebody That I Used to Know,” his hit single the Bowl’s audiences made it clear they came to see. His songs all started out mysterious and intriguing but, in most cases, felt overly drawn out.
His biggest mistake may have been neglecting to close his show with “Somebody.” (The crowds began trickling out with increasing speed after the song ended.) But even those who stayed seemed to simply want another shot at hearing “Somebody.”
Will Gotye’s music withstand the test of time? I’d bet that he’s slated for one-hit wonder-dom. But did he bring enough to the table to provide a perfectly pleasant evening? You bet.