Austra Talks and People Listen
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Austra Talks and People Listen

Hometown synth-pop darlings strike awe at a densely packed Phoenix.

A backing vocalist/disco dancer.

It’s a difficult feat, sounding as good live as in recording. Few bands manage to approach the studio polish of their produced-and-packaged sound, and often the sheer bravado employed to work around that is what makes a live performance worth experiencing. That’s not the case with Austra. The local synth-pop trio appears to be among the rare class of musical outfits that manage not only to replicate the effortlessness of their recorded sound onstage, but, arguably, to surpass it.

Much of the credit goes to the band’s frontwoman, the classically trained Katie Stelmanis, whose nimble vocals soar through octaves without so much as a blink. But drummer Maya Postepski and bassist Dorian Wolf are hardly shrinking violets themselves, and a duo of backup singer-dancers—in addition to a surprise alto sax solo on “The Beast”—rounded out the wall-of-sound effect brought upon Thursday night’s performance at the Phoenix.

The venue appeared to be at capacity, stuffed with an all-ages crowd whose members curiously seemed to all sport the same haircut, each craning their necks to catch a glimpse of the ethereal disco queen at centre stage. Watching Stelmanis in action, all sweepy arms and billowing Stevie Nicks shirtsleeves, it’s easy to forget her previous incarnation as a sweatered indie solo act.

The set was generous and spot-on, offering the Polaris-shortlisted Feel it Break album in its entirety. While the band mostly refrained from onstage banter, Stelmanis did take a moment to acknowledge that a portion of the concert’s proceeds would be donated to the Attawapiskat First Nation in response to the community’s ongoing housing crisis, which drew hearty cheers from all in attendance. But beyond that, there was a measured distance between the crowd and the stage—an element of mystery and space. Maybe part of this impression comes from the experience of watching a band seemingly on the cusp of megastardom, teetering on the edge of relatability.

Or maybe Austra’s just too short on flaws.

Photos by Alex Nursall.