Austra have a knack of picking nifty support acts for their tours. Grimes was one before she got as big as Eircom ads and now Diana are in place, still fresh in our ears from Iceland Airwaves. The majority of the crowd are in early enough to see them and the newer, smaller Button Factory really makes things more intimate, even without the sold out crowd all in the door. Even better this time in a darkened, winter room they do so well to grab attention from a standing start. Carmen Elle is a strong lead, a powerful voice overlying a mix of electro and synth sounds, but with a four piece band aesthetic. Her unself-conscious moves and casual guitar-over-one-shoulder style raise the support-band-confidence game but when Joseph Shabason’s carefully chosen sax moments puncture the air the response is mid-song cheers from beautiful Friday night Dublin.
Austra take up the reins and clearly know that they can put a strong support on and still raise the game. In a sea of back-lit cocktail umbrellas is visually the most diverse of bands running from a t-shirt slacker look on the right to, well, a wigless drag queen on spring break in Cancoon on the left. Katie Stelmanis is forever the visual focus. Blonde hair, black eyebrows and huge Egyptian eyes in a billowing red blouse, her arms do more work than most bands as a whole. Waving over the crowd, conducting through her operatic moments and recoiling in the air after she punches in her own keyboard parts your eyes can’t not be attracted to her as she moves about.
They keep the show dark, befitting this gothic pop – reds and blues mainly – and mix almost 50/50 tracks from both albums, cherry-picking the best which also happen to be ideal Friday in November mood setters. ‘The Villain’s marching beat for head-swaying, ‘Reconcile’ for slow motion arms-point-skyward. The one complaint is that Katie’s vocals keep dropping out. Her trained operatic voice so distinctive on record is muddier here and either she keeps pulling the mic away or the holds back on certain words and notes when singing live. Perhaps the energy of her motion doesn’t pair with her delivering with this clarity. Her annunciation so unusual that singing along is a mugs game as you will question if you have the words right, though this is clearly our issue and not hers, and does encourage us to just shut up and dance which is no harm at all.
Having ‘Lose It’ in the bag near the end of the short set is a come-all-ye moment but dropping it straight into ‘Beat and the Pulse’ is a genius move. This song has grown up to be a big boy, and the already-heavy delivery of this track now super beefy with the bass player hammering chords out front, rattling the ribcage. We’re left with the sky-high ‘Spellwork’ and then Olympia’s ‘Annie’ to close, songs that could have been switched in order for maximum effect but that’s just nit-picking. And we’ll get over our vocal grumblings too, soon enough, and chalk down another hard-edged gig by an Austra still out there pushing themselves to make our nights with them so much better. And we didn’t even really miss the absent twins.
Austra photographed for State by Debbie Hickey.
See full gallery from the gig here.