Austra sound best after dark

The Toronto four-piece's Panamania gig came alive after the sun set

AUSTRA as part of PANAMANIA at Nathan Phillips Square, Wednesday, August 12. Rating: NNN

Austra’s music is suited to darkness, which might be why their set at Nathan Phillips Square didn’t really come alive until the sun went down halfway through. Suddenly the Toronto four-piece’s music, which could be described as gothic electronic opera, began to hit harder, enhanced by the newly visible lighting.

Though influenced by early house music, they’re not a band that goes for big bass drops or accessible dance floor beats. Rather, they sustain an atmospheric tension that never completely breaks. Live, it can leave you in a lurch, though several songs – Lose It and Beat And The Pulse from 2011’s Feel It Break, Hurt Me Now from 2013’s Olympia – were subtly built up, torn down and built up again in satisfying ways.

In addition to album material, they offered up two new songs, including one “about the environment,” said singer/keyboardist Katie Stelmanis, who from beginning to end easily reached the highest of high notes and moved comfortably around the big stage. (Keyboardist Ryan Wonsiak has the best moves, though – a sort of running-on-a-treadmill dance punctuated by dramatic hand flourishes.)

Just before the end, Stelmanis used the opportunity of performing so close to City Hall to rally for a cause: “The politicians are probably gone home by now, but I just want to say that this is a really cool event but we actually need more money for affordable housing.” | @carlagillis

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