A Show Filled with Contrasts and Conflicting Notions

May 24th, 2011

Austra – Mercury Lounge – May 23, 2011

It was a sold-out affair at Mercury Lounge last night as Toronto’s upstart Austra played a set full of contrasts and conflicting notions. Lead singer Katie Stelmanis popped out from her band with blonde hair and gold bangles weighing down both of her wrists. The rest of the group—two backup singers, bassist, drummer and laptop/keyboard player were nearly uniform in blank tank tops, almost disappearing into the Merc’s stage.

The music had matching clashes: The instruments churned out deep ’80s synth-dance riffs while the vocals floated and fluttered with Stelmanis’s warbling Björk-esque lead. The result was dance music that the crowd didn’t quite want to dance to, hypnotized by the off-kilter harmonies that didn’t quite sync like the bass and drums. It was the view of an alligator wrestling with a hummingbird and the hummingbird improbably winning.

With little chitchat from the stage, Austra diligently worked through the just released Feel It Break, doing their best to recreate the electro-lushness of the album onstage. The three-part vocals worked best when going through the wordless syllables, each woman an individual pipe on some cosmic organ. During these moments, the band’s members seemed to find one another and Stelmanis backed away from the microphone, dancing as if controlled by marionette strings and the sold-out audience started to move. —A. Stein