Austra Phoenix Concert Hall, Toronto ON, September 27

Austra Phoenix Concert Hall, Toronto ON, September 27
Katie Stelmanis and Austra know exactly what they're doing. During their hometown show, the four-piece — plus a touring trombonist — masterfully controlled pace and atmosphere, ratcheting up tension, setting up release, then delivering catharsis. Sure, it was deliberate, but that made it all the more impressive.

Beginning with the spare keys and foreboding percussion of "What We Done?" the band built pressure before shattering it with cosmic synths, huge downbeats, and a healthy helping of chilling harmonies. Follow-up, "Painful Like," was awash in '80s melodies — think Talking Heads in a cavern — offering a bit of levity, while "Forgive Me" revived the trip hop, announcing it with a booming kick drum.

Throughout, Stelmanis glided about, hitting skyscraping notes and channelling Kate Bush. Talented, confident, and fearless, she was captivating, especially on standouts "Home" and "Sleep." On the former, her voice counterbalanced a tribal rhythm, creating a compelling push-and-pull, while the latter showcased her synth chops.

Austra songs deftly play with syntax, rising, falling, and growing where necessary. Similarly, their set-list was designed with a crescendo in mind. "Lose It" ultimately provided it. The track started with simple interplay between keys and vocals before evolving into a Crystal Castles-style banger and ending as an all-in dance party. A visceral payoff to an all-ready heady evening, it was a major highlight of a gig full of them.