Austra – Cargo, London 07/07/11
It’s only Austra's second show in the capital and once again it’s sold-out and rammed to the rafters. Two desperate fans have even created a DIY ‘two tickets needed’ sign out of a piece of cardboard and stand hopefully beside the entrance to the hottest show in London this Thursday night.
If The Feeling and Calvin Harris mated, support band Bright Light Bright Light would be their bastard love child. The hard hitting synths and chunky 90s beats sit decades away from the forward thinking of tonight’s headliner as lead singer Rod Thomas click his fingers to recorded backing vocals on a song that bares a more than uncomfortably close resemblance to Depeche Mode’s ‘Just Can’t Get Enough’. In the right setting it could work, but tonight it falls painfully flat.
Clouded by smoke, dusted in glitter and staring wide-eyed into the crowd Austra appear onstage looking as otherworldly as their music; last to appear is lead singer Katie Stelmanis, hiding behind a mass of bleached blonde hair the two backing singers either side of her start to lunge side-to-side in unison to the throbbing beat of ‘Dead Horse’ and her pitch perfect envelopes every enclave of Cargo’s boxed back room. The aural intensity of the show is heightened as multi-coloured lasers dart around the walls obscuring the band in a techni-colour haze for cult track ‘Young And Gay’ and fading-out to a foreboding red glow for ‘Hate Crime’.
Although, the sound tonight places Katie’s vocals too high in the mix (she repeatedly asks for the backing track to be turned up throughout the set) what’s striking is how the band uses her voice as instrument in its’ own right as on ‘Lose It’ Katie, along with the intricate harmonies of the backing singers, creates both the narrative and subtext of the track with the synth, bass and drums joining-up the dots.
The marching rhythm of ‘Beat And The Pulse’ makes it feel as if you’re at a religious awakening as Katie stands hands aloft like a high priestess addressing her congregation before aptly closing the set with the grinding monotone beat of ‘Spell Work’. Deafening cheers bring the band back for an encore of the bewitching scales of ‘The Future’ and a mind bending cover of Joni Mitchell’s ‘Woodstock’ that takes the bare bones of the original and coating them with gold dusted electro flesh to making it unrecognisable. As Austra leave the stage, it’s clear that we’ve witnessed a supernatural happening, with Katie Stelamanis firmly at its helm.
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