Synthpop group Austra have cultivated an enthusiastic following since forming in 2009. The group have released two successful albums, with their third, Future Politics released Jan 20th, the same day they played Toronto’s Mod Club. This performance marked the start of their North American tour, and was also the first time the band had played together for over a year and a half.
Taking to social media before the show, front woman Katie Stelmanis announced that they were making the new album free or pay-what-you can for the release day, with all proceeds going to planned parenthood. Talking of our current tumultuous political environment, she framed the new album as “our commitment to envisioning something different as humans, something outside of the current systems of say what you want, take what you want, and give nothing back.”
Support for the night was singer/songwriter Lido Pimienta, who warmed the crowd with a cacophony of sounds produced by instruments ranging from synths to hand percussion. Chilling vocals drove the performance, which was interspersed with commentary about making space for ‘the other’, and the importance of queer rights. She also took time to translate some Spanish lyrics to the crowd, explaining that ‘no te amo’ means ‘I don’t love you’, before leaving us with the mandate to find our personal Rosetta Stone so we can learn learn Espanyol.
This was my third time seeing Austra live, after taking them in at Melbourne’s Laneway Festival in 2013 and again when they played in Toronto the following year. What stood out for me about these two performances was the band’s energy and ability to produce an interesting, varied show. For the Toronto show, the band organized a performance from the Toronto Chinese Opera, and finished with a Dj set orchestrated by 2 of the band members, providing quite the dance party.
My experience at these two performances, combined with the fact that this was a hometown gig on the day their album was released raised by expectations extremely high. I would like to say these expectations were met, but unfortunately the performance felt a little flat from the start.
There were some technical problems early on, which caused the sound to waver at times. It was also obvious the band hadn’t performed together in some time, with dropped lyrics and missed beats a feature throughout. These issues I can easily forgive, however compared the captivating performances I had previously enjoyed, the show also lacked energy and felt quite impersonal. There was little on-stage banter, and the band were very distant throughout. At one point someone in the crowd yelled out “Toronto loves you,” and I was left wondering if the feeling was in any way mutual.
That said, the power of Katie Stelmanis vocals can’t be doubted. She was in fine form for most of the new material, with title track Future Politics was a highlight. Older tracks like Lose It and Spellwork were stand out crowd favourites, turning up the energy in the otherwise subdued show. Hopefully the current tour will help the band iron out any technical issues and regain their confidence on-stage and flair for crafting an mesmerizing show.