Saturday, February 4, 2012

Live Review: AUSTRA

Northcote Social Club

Despite a plethora of excellent options elsewhere in Melbourne tonight, the Social Club is packed to near capacity with a convivial and attentive crowd for the Canadian electro pop sextet. The crowd itself seems to consist almost entirely of couples, many of who are, as a nearby punter notes, 'from the Isle of Lesbos'. Electro dub plays loudly over the PA as the crowd chat, poke their phones, and drink. Soon enough, an androgynous keyboardist, a drummer and a bassist march out and begin the moody introduction to The Choke, a highlight of their album Feel it Break. Soon after, the three singers/dancers appear, each adorned with glittering gold necklaces and gauzy clothes that suit their flowing dance moves, which take a Bollywood/Dance of the Seven Veils influence and drive it into the ground throughout their short set. Hilariously, and possibly intentionally, every band member looks like they walked off a Frankie shoot except for bassist Dorian Wolf, sullen in jeans and a white t-shirt, like he wandered over from 303 to do the gig for a six-pack.

Second song Hate Crime finds the audience more vocal and allows the three distinctive singers to really impress with their arrangements. Lose It follows and begins to reveal a songwriting formula to which Austra adhere very closely; a heavy synth line accentuated by bass opens, drums enter followed by the stunning vocals of lead singer Katie Stelmanis. A chorus follows, and here are the harmonies from twin singers Sari and Romy Lightman who return for the later choruses and refrains. It’s a good formula and one that has worked well for many bands before, but it also renders many of the songs indistinguishable and, besides, Ladytron did exactly the same thing, with dynamics, a sense of humour and original vintage synths 12 years ago. That’s not to say Austra aren’t engaging or don’t know how to make electronic pulses sexy and danceable. Songs like radio hit Darken Her Horse, Beat and the Pulse and Spellwork are excellent electronic pop songs and the combined power of the three voices and arpeggiated synth bass is undeniable, as is the quality of the live sound; a band has rarely sounded better here.

Though the between-song conversation is minimal, and there is little of the dancing that this music would justify in other environments, the crowd is on side throughout. So it’s some surprise that after just 40 minutes, Stelmanis announces their last song. A brief two-song encore follows, and they close with the wonderful Identity in what has to be one of the pithiest gigs of recent times.

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