Thursday, 18 August 2011

Dark matter and Cleopatra eyes: Austra live at Cargo

First published in Loud And Quiet

Don't call it operatic
Cargo, Shoreditch
7th July 2011

Goth is a question that cannot be answered yet will not die. What is it, exactly? No one can agree. Goth is the dark matter of the musical universe and best sidestepped as a term altogether.

And so: the current spectrum of darkwave banshees stretches from Planningtorock at the sharp end through to Zola Jesus at the rather blunt end, with tenuous foundations laid on the trembling theatrics of Kate Bush, Siouxsie and even that contemporary white witch Bat For Lashes. Austra frontwoman Katie Stelmanis's opera-trained voice is set on a constant quiver, strong but with a Bjork-ish throatiness.

Alright, listing all those left-field female pop voices is rather hackneyed, but in the case of Austra the voice is the reason we're here. Tonight it seems so faultless it could almost be – is she? Of course it's ridiculous, but at points Stelmanis seems to nail the notes so precisely you could swear she's miming.

Cleopatra-eyed and flanked by her two Coachella pin-up singers (tie-dye, suede fringing and glitter), the Torontonian marches from thumping album opener 'Darken Her Horse' to the pagan disco workouts of 'Beat and the Pulse' and 'Hate Crime'. The intensity and idiosyncrasy of that voice gets wearisome after 45 minutes, but a skilfully arranged cover in the shape of Joni Mitchell's 'Woodstock' keeps us hooked until the final bars.