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Coachella 2012: Gotye's moment with 'Somebody That I Used to Know'

April 16, 2012 |  9:34 am

Belgian-Australian singer-songwriter and multi-instrumentalist Gotye had two big concerns ahead of his debut at the Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival on Sunday night: How hot would it be out in the desert, and how his massive hit, the understated lovelorn jam, “Somebody That I Used to Know,” would play out in front of the crowd. 

“I’ve played plenty of festivals in Australia. But none I’ve been to have been in the desert,” he laughed when he talked to The Times for a feature to run next week. “How much water do I need to drink to make sure I can sing on the Coachella stage?”

COACHELLA 2012 | Full coverage

The 31-year-old artist born Wouter “Wally” De Backer, who performs under the often-mispronounced moniker Gotye (it's Go-tee-yay), made his Coachella debut the night after appearing for the first time on “Saturday Night Live” and the crowd in the Mojave Tent came to hear that hit, which is currently No. 2 on the U.S. pop chart.

In just the past two weeks the guitar pop jam –- a duet with New Zealand breakout Kimbra –- has been covered on “Glee” and “The Voice.” Aerosmith's Steven Tyler admitted he keeps the song on repeat on his iPod during praising of a pair of contestants who covered the song on “American Idol,” and a YouTube cover from indie band Walk Off the Earth has amassed more than 82 million views (and a record deal). The official video for the single has been watched more than 154 million times. 

Needless to say, the song is everywhere and De Backer wanted the moment to be right.

"Although it’s a crossover single, it’s a very peculiar track. It's supremely soft and reflective. Both my vocals, the loopy guitar part and all the little hooks in it, they really only operate when they are very understated and soft. So I wonder how that will come across on a festival [sound system]," he noted. "It's been tough when we’ve had a chatty crowd and the quietest part of the whole set is actually the first two minutes of the big hit single that everybody has come to see."

Though De Backer breezed through a focused set of the genre-blending pop that made his third album, “Making Mirrors,” an eclectic treat of experimental pop, he proved eager to rid himself of the weight of the massive single, choosing to plant the track three-quarters into his set. The song attracted one of the larger early evening audiences spotted the entire weekend.

“This is a song you might have heard,” he announced as he began the opening riffs of the hit. Almost instantaneously the tent glowed as hundreds of cellphones, glowsticks and lighters soared into the air from the audience eager to capture the moment and sing along. 

De Backer took his time with the opening verse. He wanted every word to be heard over a makeshift choir that was actually thousands of festival-goers chanting the lyrics, waiting in anticipation for that big chorus with that anthemic hook. Despite his initial reservations, De Backer was heard loud and clear in the tent, even as cheers for Kimbra nearly drowned him out. 

With time left in his set, those who came for the four minutes of angsty heartbreak had gotten what they needed and started to file out.

“Now that that's out of the way, let's get onto the real…,” De Backer joked to the crowd that was pouring out.

Those who stayed were treated to a rocking drum solo from De Backer as he launched into another album standout, the Motown/Stax influenced, "I Feel Better” to a noticeably smaller crowd.


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-- Gerrick D. Kennedy @gerrickkennedy

Photo: Australian artist Gotye performs during the first weekend of the 2012 Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival on Sunday in Indio, Calif. Credit: Chris Pizzello/Associated Press.