June has been a busy gig month, too many bands I wanted to see decided that it was all happening this month and in the end I scaled it down to four while keeping fingers crossed the ones I missed will turn up again later in the year, or even better at Bestival.
Following Emika’s fab show, Austra put on a performance of sound histrionics that could not disappoint, even after some reservations on my part in an initial luke warm listening experience of the new album Olympia. But and big *but* streaming first listens is never quite the same as listening to the album properly, minus annoying ads, inopportune pauses, and constant clickity of play buttons rudely interrupting a smooth and consistent appraisal of the noise you are trying to connect with.
Having heard some of the new tracks live, they definitely did start to resonate and as I’ve said many times, instantaneous isn’t always a good thing, ‘What We Done’ and ‘Painful Like’ sounded divine, despite an overwhelming need in me to change 'done' to 'did', but importantly, I have learnt to love Olympia, particularly Annie (Oh muse, you) which I initially thought ‘what the fuckery?’ if I’m honest. If your passion for music lies outside the charts or commercial radio, some effort brings reward. Anyway, not wishing to be so serious, basically it was a good show and a really pleasing set list that rolled back and forth from Feel it Break to Olympia with ease, beat and pulse.
The epic sound of Katie’s operatic vocals and the somewhat unusually large membership of the band (although still modest by Arcade Fire or Polyphonic Spree standards) plus the simplicity of the stage set and lighting make the whole experience a big and yet strangely understated thing…
The dynamics of the six members works like a well oiled reciprocal, call me old fashioned but I like that real band feel, looking to each other for cues and everything! It was unmistakably live, from when the lady with large spectacles *said that in QT Dimblebot fashion* drumming missed her cue (and tapped her drumsticks together to start tracks, haven’t seen that for a while), to Katie’s microphone switching off and a missed note in ‘Spellwork’, it smacked of imperfectly perfect, true bloopers bringing out the authenticity of a performance which I’m sure a lot of bands wouldn’t even risk in this day of gimmicky standardisation.
‘Lose It’ was a highlight for me, a searing lament of a pop song along with ‘Beat and the Pulse’ and ‘The Choke’, all teased into new versions for this current tour nothing short of celestially. The show opened brilliantly and continued with new tracks like ‘Reconcile’, ‘Sleep’ and ‘Forgive Me’ that reminded me of a Chromatics song in places, which was a treat, as I’d foregone a Chromatics gig a few days previously. They went off and came back for an encore, I say ‘off’, there’s actually nowhere to go, they moved to the side, had a quick chat and a few hugs, while the audience did the old foot stamp and they sidled demurely back, throwing themselves in ‘Spellwork’ and ending with ‘Hurt Me Now’.
The main backing singers provided by the sisters Tasseomancy really weaved the spell of Austra together and were given quite a moment to front in ‘Lose It’ as Katie sat down to sing. I felt they, as an indie pagan folk duo probably had a bit more input into Olympia this time around which could be why the doom laden electronic die hards from Feel it Break times may need to readjust their ears a little? There does seem something a little lighter and confident with this new release, more shadowy than dark perhaps. They all seem to have an equal presence as part of Austra’s identity despite the signature of Katie Stelmanis’ vocal power.
I would say that bands doing album promo gigs on the day they release is a tricky one for me though as it doesn’t give you much time to listen, I felt this with Emika too, release and give it a fortnight? Give us time to react and know what we’re hearing. Maybe that’s just me?
Austra are playing at KOKO in November so do get along if you are so inclined, you won’t be disappointed.
*photographs are mine*
And now for Kate Boy…
Just 48 hours later, I was back at the same venue, which is a pretty cool one to be honest, small but of note, however, on this particular night, it could have done with some air conditioning, highlighted by Kate (who’s Australian) saying it was too hot.
It did feel like trying to listen to icy Nordic electro, (the rest of Kate Boy are Swedish and it certainly trades on that) in the subtropics. This culminated in a weird mash up of heat colliding with icy sound and people fanning one another while sipping beer from plastic glasses. I love London.
I enjoyed this gig despite the closeness, which is quite a lot as I suffer heat in a generally irritable way. I have to say Hoxton Square Bar and Kitchen (they could drop that kitchen bit really) is uber friendly and you forgive it most things.
Now this gig was a little more gimmicky. There were bleepy machine things that probably weren’t doing much and even though the drummers did a ‘drum test’, I suspect there was some unlive jiggery-pokey going on in places. The laser show was probably a bit much for a teeny tiny sized room about the size of a school assembly hall but it all looked very impressive as the band emerged dressed in a baseball cap and erm bondage overalls (?) I liked the effect of the androgynous blend.
Most importantly, Kate Akhurst was singing live. I will forgive all manner of rigged up machinery and pretence so long as someone is singing, properly, and people leaving were smitten with the performance. The six songs all sounded good with ‘In Your Eyes’ and ‘Northern Lights’ stealing the show. I liked it and I want to see Kate Boy again once an album is out and they have more material. I said at the latter end of 2012 Kate Boy were ones to watch and this gig has re-affirmed that.
And digressing a little, I noted the feminist leanings of some of the lyrics at Austra and the androgyny of Kate Boy and was reminded of a post I wrote about women in electronic music a few months back What's with all the theatrics in female electronica lately?, it is focussed more on Planningtorock and Gazelle Twin but is kind of relevant...
Kate Boy spoke recently about the conscious decision to blend the band here and stand as a collective. It seems women and bands are now stealing the shows with good music and imagery that confronts the pitfalls of being a female front woman defined by 'looks' first and 'music' second, or any one member getting all the attention. Not an easy task.