don't you tell me how i feel.

austra at glasslands by v
March 1, 2011, 12:09 pm
Filed under: gothy shit, New music, Shit I Like, Shows

This weekend I saw Canadian band Austra at Glasslands in Brooklyn, an outing prompted purely by one song that I heard last week, posted above (well, also the cheap cheap ticket price and the urging of a friend).

In brief: Austra is the project of the Toronto-based Katie Stelmanis, the blond woman pictured. The band cites Nine Inch Nails as an influence. Their song “The Beat and the Pulse” pairs a borderline-cheesy dance beat with evil vocals, and the combination is irresistible — I suspect Trent himself would approve. At present, Austra literally only have two songs out (on the internet, anyway), but the full record, Feel it Break, is coming in May.

So, the show.

Their Glasslands performance featured five musicians who all seemed otherworldly. Lots of face glitter and off-putting middle-distance gazes. The keyboard player had a particularly serial-killer-esque demeanor, and Stelmanis’ two backup singers, wearing matching red ascot-like things, had a quasi-choreographed dip-dance going on that suggested robots. I will not comment on the drummer’s oversized eyewear, on display in the image above. AND EVERYONE HAS REDEYE IN THE PICTURES. Coincidence? More like PURE EVIL.

Musically, I feel like they’re channeling Fever Ray in a major way. It’s not derivative, but it definitely has a similar terrifying-but-riveting quality.

Check their MySpace page here.


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In “Beat And The Pulse,” Katie Stelmanis’ voice smacks of Stevie Nicks. Maybe not in overall texture, I grant you, but definitely in those powerful, sustained tones. In Austra’s cover of Roy Orbison’s “Crying,” however, a different detail demands note. There, an unfiltered Stelmanis reveals a rich vibrato that, like heat haze on a hot stretch of pavement, seems to ripple the very air.

That’s why I went to Glasslands on Saturday night. Stelmanis has cannon barrels for vocal chords, and I wanted to bear witness to the shots fired. Plus, everything I’ve read about the band seems to imply that, the next time they swing through town, the venue will be bigger and the ticket prices will be harder to justify.

The first thing I noticed was, the stage lights were out. Austra was not having that shit. Then the music started, and for a brief moment I thought, “it’s all fucking hype.” The band’s body language seemed false, and the first song started off quiet, sans beat. I could tell it was a beautiful, table-setting harmony, but the microphones weren’t loud enough.

Bitter memories of The Great Chief Debacle are still fresh in my mind, you know? I was starting to get worried about whether or not I could still trust my ears. Then the bass dropped like a boot on the gas, and the show sprang forward like how our fucking clocks will on March 13th at 2 AM FUCK THAT SHIT.

As I watched Stelmanis sing and sway like a shaman summoning rain, I realized something exciting – the woman is nowhere near her full vocal potential yet (at least on stage). But give it some time. After the band has seen some shit together, and Stelmanis has grown more comfortable in calling down the thunder, seeing Austra live will make for a golden ticket.

I enjoyed the contribution of the two bun-headed backup singers, on the harmonies, but like V said, their synchronized dance moves watered down the overall potency of the Austra sauce. To me, the bobbing, shoulder-jerking, Jack-in-the-box-type shit made for a weird contrast with Stelmanis’ more ethereal stage presence. She was at a seance, but the backup singers could have been modeling coats. The rest of the band, to be perfectly frank, seemed like pretty stage dressing. That could be totally wrong – for all I know the bassist is the main songwriter – but I doubt it.

I can’t complain too though. I really enjoyed the show, and would gladly pay to see it again. I’m curious to hear how it sounds in Texas in two weeks, amidst the red dust and daylight of SXSW…

Comment by Lehtola

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