AUSTRA at Village Underground

Toronto’s finest pay a visit to London…

Austra’s Future Politics album was a timely release that explored themes of human nature, politics and the environment. In a particularly turbulent time, Katie Stelmanis outlined a manifesto of sorts in which everyone has to play a part to battle against the “approaching dystopia”.

The album had largely been a solo effort with Katie penning much of it on her computer, stepping away from the studio sessions that had produced 2013’s Olympia. As a result, there’s perhaps a more intimate nuance to the material on the new album. Adapting those songs for a live performance must have provided a few challenges, but what’s interesting is the way much of the Future Politics songs (as well as earlier material) gets given a much heavier, dance-orientated adaptation for the live stage.

Meanwhile, support act Pixx seem to be a fine compliment to Austra. There’s a solid collection of songs with, at times, a similar baroque pop approach to our Canadian chums. Hannah Rodgers has a confident stage presence, while there’s a beefy, percussive feel to much of the material rolled out for the live show.

Prior to Austra arriving on stage, a playback of ‘Deep Thought’ (the brief plaintive instrumental from Future Politics) is given up as an overture of sorts before Katie and co. file out to their respective places.

The sound for Austra’s performance is also heavily weighted towards a much more bassy end of the spectrum. At times, this threatens to drown out the vocal elements of some tracks, but it also means that some songs take on a much more robust delivery than on record, such as ‘When We Were Alive’ and ‘Future Politics’ itself.

‘Utopia’ comes surprisingly early in the set and, again, has a particularly bass-heavy sound to it. To emphasise this, Dorian Wolf switches over from synths to bass guitar for the song.

In fact it’s only later that you realise the setlist opens up with the first tracks from Future Politics in sequence. This includes ‘I’m A Monster’, which offers a more reflective element to the live show with Katie’s operatic vocal delivery on-point.

Despite the small stage, Katie also makes an effort to come stage-front and wanders from left to right at moments. It’s perhaps a little disconcerting to have her literally inches away from everyone at the front – and at times there was a worry that she would misjudge the edge of the stage.

The band take a step back as Katie takes a solo spot on the piano for an emotive ‘Forgive Me’, but things step up a gear for a powerful version of ‘The Choke’. This gradual increase in a more emphatic performance of Austra material steps up again for a thumping rendition of ‘Freepower’.

Maya Postepski is in her element here, giving the drum kit a thorough workout. Meanwhile, Ryan Wonsiak becomes MC for the evening, leading the audience on with expressive gestures with his arms.

There’s a welcome response from the crowd for a fetching version of Olympia’s ‘Home’ before Katie begins to have a little boogie on stage for the opening bars of ‘I Love You More Than You Love Yourself’.

The stage is bathed in red for a spectacularly energetic ‘Beat And The Pulse’, which also sees Katie headbanging at one point! This is followed up by a percussive live take on ‘Lose It’ before the band launch into the final song, which is ‘The Villain’. Arguably one of Austra’s best recorded songs, lately it’s been elevated to an energetic club-orientated thrash live version.

The band file back on stage for the encore, which includes the trance-like rhythms of ‘Habitat’ and ends with a particularly heartfelt ‘Hurt Me Now’. The audience give a final loud burst of applause as the final notes seem to echo in the cavernous location of Village Underground.

Austra have demonstrated that they’re a formidable live act who can still offer up surprises. But perhaps the most important thing is that they’re a band that are thoroughly enjoying themselves on stage. Katie Stelmanis continues to also prove that her particular talent for melodies and arrangement, matched with thoughtful lyrics, isn’t in danger of deserting her any time soon. As Austra depart London for the next leg of the Future Politics tour, we can only wonder what future sounds have yet to be explored.