Concerts Concerts Toronto's Austra; Just the Beginning

Toronto's Austra; Just the Beginning

Austra at The Phoenix
Austra
Young Galaxy, Tasseomancy
The Phoenix in Toronto, ON
December 1, 2011

Review by: Katie Christensen
Photos by: Julie Lavelle

A year ago, almost to the day, Toronto band Austra played the Bovine Sex Club. With one incredibly successful album, which landed them on Polaris shortlist, it was no wonder why the Phoenix was packed to the brim on this chilly late December night.    

Austra

It was a little after midnight when Katie Stelmanis, dressed in a beautiful Indian dress complete with intricate gold panjas on each hand, took to the stage with drummer Maya Postepski and emphatically started into the beautiful piano melody of "The Beast", one of my favorite songs from their album Feel It Break. Katie's voice on the record is enough to make shivers run down your spine but hearing her sing, "Is that the ground below me or your feet?" with her bellowing and sinewy voice, I half expected her to start levitating from the stage. The rest of the band eventually joined them on stage to perform "Young & Gay" from Beat and The Pulse released on Domino Records in January 2011. Compared to the pared down piano melody that came before it, this pulsating song with dark electronic textures resonated through the hall as the voices of Katie and Sari, and Romy Lightman, the twins from opening band Tasseomancy,   converged to create a truly haunting harmony.

After "Hate Crime" they moved onto a crowd favorite, "Lose It", which lightened the atmosphere as people started to dance along. As Katie bellowed from the stage, waving her arms as if she was rehearsing an incantation, you could hear the a hint of her opera beginnings melding perfectly with her electronic MIDI songwriting. They moved onto three songs off Feel It Break which was crafted by Stelmanis, Postepski and bassist Dorian Wolf. The album, as a whole, is an ominous, edgy and danceable masterpiece. We also got a taste of Austra's next single, "Habitat", a synth heavy track with deliriously beautiful lyrics. 

Before launching into their next song, Katie took a moment to reflect on their most recent tour and how in every city they visited an occupy camp. She went on to say how proud they were of the movement happening in Toronto. There were mixed reviews from the audience, some cheered while some stared on in bemusement.

However the air of awkwardness lifted when they started into "Beat and the Pulse" and everyone started dancing, losing themselves in the hypnotizing bass line. Finishing their set with "Spellwork", it didn’t take much coaxing from the crowd before they re-emerged launching into floaty B-side "Identity". Although I had secretly hoped they would end with their fantastic cover of Roy Orbison’s "Crying" instead they opted for "The Future", which begs the obvious question: What does Austra's future entail? If they keep up at this rate, in a year's time the Phoenix won't be able to hold the amount of fans they will garner.

Info: Austra
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Young Galaxy

The Phoenix was fully packed, complete with a huge line to enter the building when Young Galaxy took to the stage. Completely decked out in white, Catherine McCandless (vocals, keyboard) flowing robe had a collar of feathers that swayed as she performed against a flashing lightshow. They played a selection of songs off their third album Polaris nominated Shapeshifting, including dreamy "Blown Minded" which really emphasizes the richness of Catherine's voice. Along with calypso inspired steel drum infused "Cover Your Tracks" where Catherine and ex-Stars guitarist Stephen Ramsay share the vocals.

At one point bassist Stephen Kamp was taking photos of the giant dancing crowd. If you listen to Shapeshifting from start to finish, you can really hear the different path they took choosing to employ Swedish duo Studio's Dan Lissvik to produce the tight-knit album. The band was a fan of Lissvik's remixes for Fever Ray and they wanted Shapeshifting to reflect that Eurythmics, New Order style. And not neglecting their second album Invisible Republic they performed dream/dance pop single "Long Live The Fallen World" along with a few others before handing over the stage to Austra.

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