Monday, 5 December 2011

Austra Great But Too Late

On (Thurs) November 24, 2011 Austra, a Toronto band, played at the West End Cultural Centre. Here’s my review. Pardon the references to the date, I wrote this the day after.


Despite two cups of coffee and an energetic performance from the band, when I left Austra’s concert at the West End Cultural Centre Thursday night I was mostly just tired. After two opening acts that lasted an hour a piece, Katie Stelmanis’ blonde head, recognizable from posters in the lobby, finally appeared on stage a few minutes before 10 p.m. Two hours after the concert began.

Opinions about New Age music [a pop derivative of the 60s and 70s punk scene] aside, the hypnotic melodies of Austra and their opening acts Tasseomancy and Young Galaxy had a soothing effect on me that had me ready for bed rather than ready for an encore.

Austra paused in Manitoba for the night as they province-hopped their way across the country promoting their first album, Feel It Break, out May 2011, with opening acts Tasseomancy and Young Galaxy by their side. But don’t confuse vocalists Sari and Romy Lightman (Tasseomancy) and Catherine McCandless (Young Galaxy) with wall flowers. The night was an exercise in vocal range.

When Stelmanis, along with bandmates drummer Maya Postepski and bassist Dorian Wolf, finally took to the stage the sparsely packed room had filled to the point that seeing the band meant getting out of your seat. Being that I’m an amateur connoisseur of indie-music who hadn’t heard of Austra until the week before, I didn’t stand. The standing portion of the crowd, however, did outnumber those sitting.

Overall, the night had great sound that took advantage of the cultural centre’s cavernous ceilings. And the bare stage dressings seemed to be all there was room for as the big voices of Tasseomancy filled the first hour with a haunting set, straight out of a James Cameron flick. If their touring career doesn’t work out, Tasseomancy might consider scoring for Hollywood movies. If there was a slight blip it was the second act, Young Galaxy, whose high notes made the lights seem too bright and had me thinking about everything except what they were singing.

If you’re a real Austra buff you might have been feeling impatient two hours having not a glimpse of the band whose name is on the $12 ticket. I myself spent most of Young Galaxy’s set wondering if the girl from Austra had died her hair brown. When the blonde head I had been looking for took to the stage around ten she was accompanied by the Lightman sisters (Tasseomancy) on backup vocals.

While their opening acts were tough to follow vocally, Austra’s Stelmanis managed to top off the night by flexing her operatic muscles, garnering the biggest applause of the night. Normally, the theatrical arm sweeping prevalent in all three performances would have made my lip curl. The bands saved themselves by hitting the beats as they swayed their way through their respective sets.

The West End Cultural Centre—named 2011 WCMA Live Music Venue of the Year—played great host with optional seating, a chatty atmosphere and blessedly clean bathrooms. But as Austra’s energy rose about three songs into the set, mine was already on the wane. Bottom line: The performance was great, but kept it me up too late.