Glitter-clad teens with dainty septum rings, punk rockers sporting Texas-sized neon green hair, and middle aged folks wearing outfits straight out of an American Apparel catalogue made up the eclectic crowd that piled into Trees for Austra’s first show in Dallas since late 2013. Forgetting the brisk cold for a few hours of close-quartered warmth and soft vocals, the show was definitely one of the best on Elm Street that night. The band’s openers – Dallas synthwave trio Pleasure Crisis and Brooklyn-based producer The Range – took stage early in the night, keeping the audience captivated, activated, and setting the bar high for Austra’s performance to come.
Pleasure Crisis had an intense vibrance to their set, their music may have used the same 80’s synth a bit too much, but vocalist Brandi Paige’s commitment to the music made up for it tenfold. Serving pilates VHS looks with the moves of a jazz musicians mistress, Paige was a force of nature, captivating, perplexing, jarring – all at once. Her velvet dress and choker betrayed the powerful sound she produces, and with lighting to match, all eyes were on her for the entire set. The band’s sound is angry, and we love it.
James Hinton’s The Range, unfortunately, fell flat in comparison. What was postured as a grand and operatic performance rendered itself in reality as a slouching man wearing a beanie and round glasses, lip-syncing a bit too energetically to samples of hip-hop tracks as he seemed to relish in assaulting his audience with an excess of hard basslines. The crowd had filled in by the time his iMac photobooth, comic book effect visuals were thrown across a screen on stage, and though they attempted to maintain the energy by bobbing their heads, Hinton’s refusal to follow a reasonable beat exhausted the audience. It seems the only one who enjoyed Hinton’s set was Hinton himself, bobbing uncontrollably behind a DJ booth as he played what sounded like a string of Odesza B-Sides for a full half hour.
Finally, as Austra lead Katie Stelmanis ascended the stage – it seemed as if the bad times were behind us. Stelmanis opened with the iconic “Future Politics,” a radical constructivist statement in the face of dystopian reality, clad in girlish makeup and beautiful jewelry, her emerald green jumper hugged her every curve as she danced across the stage. A solo piano moment presented Stelmanis bathed in a soft pink light, bordered by blue accents, as she played “Forgive Me,” off 2013’s Olympia, proving her range remains Austra’s greatest asset.
In the same vein of throwbacks, the band reminded fans of their past incarnation, one notably less political but unarguably more apt for the club, with “Hurt Me Now.” The musing “I Love You More Than You Love Yourself” felt like a hug from the band, and was followed by the iconic “The Beat and the Pulse” translated from recorded synth pop glory to a live rock anthem. However, it was only when the first notes of “Lose It” pierced the room that it became clear where the fans allegiances remain. The past Austra elicits a crowd quite literally chanting the lyrics, and following the track with “Utopia” only proved to further clarify that difference.
Finally winding down with an industrial beat that lulled the crowd into an ecclesiastical daze, the band waved as they processed off stage, only to be called back by an excited and packed audience. The 3 song encore (something old, something new, and something that seemed a little borrowed) was welcomed warmly by the audience, who filtered out soon after it ended, lingering only to grab one last drink and ruminate on the wonderful show they had witnessed.
A night full of heavy basslines, waving hands, and headbanging blondes, Austra made their mark on Dallas, and it seems we’ve made ours on them too.