The Scala, London
September 6, 2011
Having changed careers mid-stream from a piano-based singer-songwriter with a touch of the Regina Spectors to a Nico-esque bleach-blonde gothic siren, in Austra Katie Stelmanis has found the form to match the function. With a handful of impressive singles released either side of their Kate Bush meets Nine Inch Nails debut album Feel It Break, Stelmanis may have found her creative niche but she still has much to prove. On record, Austra cloak themselves in a throbbing monochrome blanket, but on stage their live show is more telling, more vibrant and commanding, as Stelmanis, flanked by a pair of interpretive dancers/backing vocalists, add any absent colour.
The night was memorable, not only for PJ Harvey chalking up her second Mercury Music prize (as enquired upon and applauded by Stelmanis mid-set), but also for keyboardist/saxophonist Ryan Wonsiak choosing to attire himself solely in black denim cut-off shorts to the unimpressed murmurs of a handful of straight men in the audience. Not to be outmatched, Stelmanis took to the stage looking like a dead ringer for Lady Gaga in her ‘Poker Face’ phase albeit crossed with a sad-eyed marionette doll. Strange band. Showing her classically-trained prowess on the piano, the band fell in behind Stelmanis as she curiously began the set with the tortured mood killing album closer “The Beast”. Best to get that one out of the way early, perhaps…
Both the owl-hooting synth-pop gem “Lose It”, and the Depeche Mode sparkle and operatic swell of “Darken Her Horse” give presence to Stelmanis’ imposing voice and the full measure of the band. The glowsticks arrived as the crowd loosened up for debut single “Beat And The Pulse”, while an encore of Joni Mitchell’s folk anthem “Woodstock” sounded expectedly as far removed from the original as possible. As much as Feel It Break captures the mood of Austra, given the right venue and right crowd, Austra’s darkly woven spells take on the desired hypnotic effect. The album has shown itself to be a grower, and Stelmanis herself to be something of a chameleon. One gets the feeling that in time Austra will evolve in the same dramatic fashion.