Austra Fitzgerald's September 14, 2012
With the joint easily packed out, Canadian synth-pop group Austra played to a crowd of about 150 sweaty souls downstairs at Fitzgerald's Saturday night. Having caught the band once before, a standout set to a decent-sized crowd a few years ago at Austin's Fun Fun Fun Fest, I was excited to see them perform in this much more intimate environment.
I figured the show would be in Fitz's larger, less sweaty upstairs venue, but that stage featured another performance from Jonathan Tyler & the Northern Lights. Walking in during the last song of opener Diana, I was impressed by what I heard; friends also mentioned how great of a set they had, so I'm bummed I didn't catch more.
Austra took the stage about half an hour after said opener finished up, surrounded by illuminated umbrellas that shifted colors to the beat throughout the entire performance. Front woman Katie Stelmanis worked the stage like she'd been doing it her whole life, all while a supporting cast of musicians -- drummer Maya Postepski, bassist Dorian Wolf and synth player Ryan Wonsiak -- rustled up a pretty lively dance party.
The performance was fun and kept everyone glued to the stage from front to back, but Stelmanis' voice was the true highlight of the night. It was effortless yet boisterous during the more upbeat tracks, and seductive and sultry when she sang with a breathless whisper on the slower songs.
Stelmanis would also take to her own synthesizer for about half of the show to add to the wall of sound already created by the other folks onstage. Just with her stage presence alone, Stelmanis brought a huge amount of energy to the room - a talent that should come in handy on Austra's eventual rise to pop-music stardom.
Dance music has made a serious comeback as of late, both in the world of EDM as well as indie artists that bring an instrumental feel to dance. With the opening of local venues like Barbarella and events like next month's Something Wicked festival, there seems to be a serious need for and following of all forms of dance music.
The synthesizer, which many moons ago was frowned upon in the pop-music world, is now a predominant sound with Billboard's best. It's the secret ingredient in current dance and pop music -- from Daft Punk to Justin Timberlake to "insert said popular band here," it's starting to show up so much more everywhere you look.
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What was once the instrument we all looked up to and idolized its players, the guitar, has taken a decided step back recently. Hell, Austra didn't even have a guitar (well, besides the bass) onstage for their performance, a trait I've noticed with quite a few of these up-and-coming indie bands.
It's kind of a terrible thought to think that the kids these days won't ever have a Clapton or Hendrix, Slash or Satriani, Frusciante or Morello. I think Katy Perry played a guitar once; Taylor Swift too. Can't wait to hear those classic guitar riffs 50 years from now.
Personal Bias: Any band that can instantly pep me up from a long, hungover day of watching movies and napping on the couch gets an A++ in my book. Plus, my Houston music foil, whom I love entirely too much as a person but pretty much feel the exact opposite about his taste in music, calls this band his favorite. If you drew up a Venn diagram of our musical tastes, Austra would fall in that very tiny splash of grey area in between with the likes of Radiohead, Devo and Metric.
The Crowd: Lots of leather. Not like a motorcycle gang, but that ironic plastic-looking leather/pleather. There were also a few mesh shirts. Like, more than zero mesh shirts. Which, in my world, is the limit of how many mesh shirts should be in a room at any given time. Combat boots too. When did those make a comeback? In five years, people are going to be wearing JNCOs again. Calling that shit right now.
Overheard In the Crowd: In reference to my taking pictures: "Hey man, I wanna put you on my shoulders!" First off, not even "Would you like to get on my shoulders?"
Apparently he'd already made up his mind that I was getting on his shoulders before even asking. I'm a pretty big dude. This guy was significantly shorter and smaller than me in every way. He was also apparently inebriated because he kept stumbling back and spilled half of his beer on my feet. No dude. I don't ever want to get on your shoulders, or really anyone else's for that matter. That sounds like a disaster.
Random Notebook Dump: After Austra, I walked upstairs for the last few songs of Jonathan Tyler & the Northern Lights and was pleasantly surprised. They had a funky, jammy rock vibe and made mincemeat out their own originals and covers of the Stones' "Honky Tonk Women" and Zeppelin's "Bring It On Home." It was a completely different affair than what was taking place downstairs, but a nice juxtaposition of musical styles.
Something Fitzgerald's has been really good about since reopening three years ago is bringing a wide variance of acts to its two stages. It's refreshing to be able to see so many different genres represented on any given night. Keep up the good work, Fitz! [And happy third re-anniversary this week, too - Ed.]
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