Austra: Feel It, Live

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I didn’t tear up during Austra’s heart-wrenching “Home,” with Katie Stelmanis’ opera-trained vocals and strong repetitive keyboard transitioning into upbeat —but still terribly lonely— electro-pop.  I wasn’t alone in my car this time; I was at a dive-bar and venue in East Atlanta called The Earl, staring at Stelmanis’ knee-length culottes and platform shoes, the neon blinking umbrella-lights, and the instruments amid the ever-glowing MacBooks…and I was dancing— I hate dancing.

My rhythm-less moves were irrelevant — Stelmanis herself dances like a football player stretching, shifting her weight between feet as she squats behind the keyboard.  “So, I dance with nothing/ So, I dance for free,” Stelmanis sang, opening the set with “What We Done?,” a reminder that if music moves me, it’s my move to make.  Perhaps it was this that let me lose myself; perhaps it had something to do with the comfort brought by her casual presence in the crowd during the opening band, DIANA.

If I hadn’t already noticed, DIANA’s frontwoman, Carmen Elle, still would have given away the band’s whereabouts.  “Out of all the bands we’re touring with, Austra is our favorite,” Elle told the audience, pointing out the members and coiling back, admitting her ‘dad joke,’ as the two Toronto-based bands are the only ones on the tour.  Elle’s conversational nature flowed throughout their set like their heavy bass, personifying the band’s dreamy chillwave not only with her ethereal airy vocals but also comments to the crowd.  Slowly grooving in an oversized tee shirt and a baseball cap, while occasionally sipping from a mug rather than the usual bottled water or can of beer, Elle seemed a model for the tranquilized sleepy 80’s sound of DIANA.  With only one eight-track album, Perpetual Surrender, the setlist was hardly a surprise, though the show allowed amplification and improvisation as everything got a few notches louder, faster, and more melodramatic.  When DIANA closed with New House, which was cheesily dedicated to Atlanta, the audience seemed sadder to say goodbye than impatient to get on with the headlining act — a rarity as refreshing as the word “y’all” seemed to be for Elle.

This sentiment drastically reversed with the arrival of the fashionably late.  Anxiety grew with cramping of the front row, and the many minutes spent waiting seemed longer as the members of Austra could be clearly seen past the corridor marked “EMPLOYEES ONLY.”  Single-file, they stepped onstage — the female drummer, the swankily dressed bassist, the male keyboardist in shorty shorts and lipstick, and the beautiful face and voice of the band, Katie Stelmanis.  Applause settled, and with the quiet open for “What We Done?,” Stelamanis’ vocals were naked and fresh against the humid air filling the venue —  serenading an explosion halfway through the song, as what begins as shy becomes upbeat and sexy.  Paving the way for the set, more songs from their sophomore album Olympia were played, though fans didn’t groan at the idea of hearing mostly newer songs — they welcomed it, especially with gems like “Painful Like,” “Forgive Me,” and their darkest pop track, “Home.”  Of course, fans were also relieved to hear some tracks from their debut album, Feel It Break, namely “Beat and The Pulse,” which everybody seemed to preserve the most energy for.  “The Choke” and “Darken Her Horse” also had fans enamored with the band’s understanding that all great dance tracks have to build tension before letting it break free.  When slow drumbeats met the chiming high-pitch keyboard for “Lose It,” the crowd did just that, alongside Stelmanis’ wordless soprano and her duet with DIANA’s Elle in the last verse.

Numbed by Austra’s live performance of opera uniquely blended with synthesized goth-pop, it was easy to forget that the lit umbrellas lining the stage were the only visuals accompanying the show.  It was easy to forget that the back-up vocalists, twins from the band Tasseomancy, were absent from the venue — leaving the drummer, Maya Postepski, to chime in.  I almost forgot that a personal favorite, “The Future,” was nicked from the setlist.  Though none of these missing pieces left the show feeling incomplete — Austra’s music, Stelmanis standing at the edge of the stage belting lyrics with a vocal range I can only imagine would feel truly painful after over an hour of singing, was enough.  They didn’t mask their set with visual performance, because they didn’t need to.

If Stelmanis’ vocal chords hurt, she didn’t let fans know.  Instead, she stood by the merch table with her bassist and members of DIANA, humoring fans wanting pictures instead of tee shirts.  Rather than sneaking out early, she stayed late, saying, “I’ve got nowhere to be” as they thanked her for her time.

I left the venue feeling giddy, those lonely lyrics to “Home” still ringing in my head.

Amy Anderson is a Magazine Journalism major at University of Georgia. She enjoys reviewing music and film of all kinds, and hopes to add more to the experience of listening or watching by adding critical perspective and showing various sides to works that audiences love (or hate, or feel indifferent towards). As well, when writing features, she strives to offer a glimpse into the artist’s creative process or ideology through engaging stories or thoughts. Her goal is to offer audiences unseen insight on creative works while opening eyes to worthwhile music and art. Amy's current five favorite musicians— though it’s always in rotation— are Andrew Bird, Beirut, Björk, John Maus, and Milosh. Her "guilty" pleasure is Robyn— if you don’t like her, you’re probably just pretending.

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