Austra at Mercury Lounge in New York, NY, on Monday, May 23, 2011
If the couple hundred people that packed an oppressively humid Mercury Lounge Monday night were those left behind after the alleged Judgment Day, at least the dive bar at the end of the world found an appropriate house band in Austra. A week after the release of Feel It Break-- the band's debut record on Domino-- Katie Stelmanis and company proved that their doomy, operatic synth-pop has equally intoxicating visual appeal -- even through the stifling concoction of sweat, cloves, and beer.
Flanked by twin backup singers Sari and Romy Lightman, Lycra-clad keyboardist Ryan Wonsiak, bassist Dorian Wolf, and drummer Maya Postepski (performing double duty with openers Trust, whose gloomy grit provided a good taste of what was to come), Stelmanis took the stage like an electro witch possessed. "Darken Her Horse" was a gripping choice for an opener, with a minimal intro that brings all focus to Stelmanis' powerful voice -- equal parts Kate Bush, Karin Dreijer Anderssen, and Canadian Opera Company.
The combination of icy synthesizer trills, Wolf's ominous bass lines, and jerky (yet eerily synchronized) wrist flicks and bows from Stelmanis and the Lightman twins throughout was certainly hypnotic. By the time "Beat and the Pulse" brought the house down, Stelmanis' incantations of sex, loss, and heartbreak had me completely entranced -- and with every moody glare heavenwards, her spidery fake lashes put the final black magic touch on the affair.
After an encore that saw Wonsiak breaking out the saxophone and an ethereal performance of "The Noise," the audience wouldn't let the spell break, begging the band (huddled in a tight corner of the stage) for more despite its one-album repertoire. Seems Austra's sinister grooves and melancholia were just what the apocalypse needed.
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