Austra

Opera House, Toronto ON, December 19

AustraOpera House, Toronto ON, December 19
Photo: Shane Parent
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For the past three years, Toronto band Austra have established themselves as a force onstage, translating their spectral synth-pop into unfettered dance parties. In that time, the six-piece live act have grown into a tight-knit machine that relies on each other's strengths as much as it bolsters one another. Drummer Maya Postepski's rhythmic ballast serves Ryan Wonsiak and Dorian Wolf's phantasmal synths, which ultimately lay the groundwork for the marquee event, Katie Stelmanis and the Tasseomancy twins' towering vocals, all coming together in rising crescendos that drop at the turn of a beat as quickly as they rise. All of that creates the full Austra experience that fans have come to know and love, but there was one piece to that puzzle that was distinctly missing last night at their homecoming show: Stelmanis's two vocal partners.
 
With Sari and Romy Lightman missing from the lineup last night, Austra have found themselves perhaps reworking material and giving Stelmanis an even bigger spotlight than before. Stelmanis's other band members stepped in to back her up on vocals, but without the synced-up charm of the Lightmans, Austra's sound felt roomier than usual. This worked both for and against them, though: more toned-down takes of songs felt glossed-over and lacking serious punch, but set list anchors "Lose It" and "The Beat and the Pulse" were amped up even more than usual with a climatic finale feeling even more triumphant compared to the set's more timid material.
 
It's clear that the band are attempting to find balance between the gloomier moments of 2011's Feel It Break and the more bludgeoning house-influenced beats of last year's Olympia and this year's Habitat EP and admittedly, it's a work-in-progress. The results were varied, but this never detracted from the band too much, as they still delivered on precision and Stelmanis's showmanship has manifested a star onstage. It'll be exciting to see how they continue to resolve this and where this will take them in future recordings and performances.

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