Austra at the Empty Bottle | Live review
In general, I am suspicious of bands that are too pretty. That’s not to say that talented people can’t also be attractive. But I have a history of sore disappointment with musicians who are seemingly more concerned with the cut of their frock than the inconsistency of their time signatures. Call it the Strokes effect.
And when Austra’s male-model bass and keyboard players in matching black tank tops, and laptop-toting drummer complete with fringe-art-gallery glasses took the stage, I couldn’t help but feel a big groan coming on: a sentiment only exacerbated by the three long-locked sprites (leading lady Katie Stelmanis among them) in thrift store muumuus and ethnic headdresses who bounced in and took center stage shortly after. Going in I wasn’t sure if the studio project, which resulted in the near-perfect goth-disco release Feel it Break, a record I happen to love, would translate in a live setting. And all the aesthetic acrobatics at the onset were sending my bullshit meter through the roof. And then the first tune featured Bollywood-style arm dances and Sprockets-style jerking and I thought to myself “Dear God, this is going to be a disaster.”
Luckily, that first song came off as a warm up compared to what followed: A live melding of three ethereal voices over largely unblemished beats and bass lines. After getting used to the idea of white girls making Mudras at me (hey, I lived through Madonna’s “spiritual” phase), I really enjoyed the more tribal elements the live show presented through loops and simple, hard-hitting drums accented with gloom-and-doom synthesizers. I went in expecting Zola Jesus and left feeling all Gang Gang Dancey. The inclusion of tour mates Young Galaxy’s drummer Andrea Silver on the last few songs added fuel to the dance fire and we all erupted for favorites such as “The Beat and the Pulse.” Former-opera singer Stelmanis’ vocals are a powerful thing live: So much so that she doesn’t need the cliché fashion tricks. But since she’s going the way of the muumuu, it’s a damn good thing she has the chops to back it up.