Austra and Grimes Get Dance-y and Drone-y at Grand Central, November 2


With Grimes

Grand Central

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Better Than: Falling down a witch house YouTube rabbit hole.

Last night, Nightdrive Miami presented its second major Grand Central production in just two weeks. And much like the recent Battles show, all factors -- sound, venue, performance -- were in perfect balance.

The double billing featured a pair of Canadian electronic dance acts: Grimes, a one-woman bedroom taper and the orchestrally thunderous Austra.

Before the show, we had seen one-woman band Grimes described as both witch house and chillwave. In a live setting, the latter dominated, though she did lapse into occasional drone-y, spooky, or otherwise moan-y passages that did recall the internet nu-goth wave of the present day. Frontwoman Claire Boucher mostly karaoke-ed to samples and loops, and the band-in-a-box dynamic didn't do her sound justice. Too compressed, too little texture or presence, too little going on. While not rewriting the electro-pop manual, the tunes were there. But you couldn't really feel them.

While Grimes's performance lacked depth, Austra's set certainly didn't. Live, the ensemble (normally a trio) became a quintet featuring live synths, a full drumkit, bass, and two back-up singers flanking lead vocalist Katie Stelmanis. In terms of forging an analog-digital synthesis that sounded equally organic and electronic, the group's performance rivaled that of last year's LCD Soundsystem show at the Fillmore. While not from the same disco-house lineage, the similarities between Austra and LCD's songwriting lies in a Talking Heads-like compositional grace.

Not that Austra played either the herky-jerky New Wave of the Heads, nor the electro-funk of LCD, though at its danciest (conjuring a disco-rock variant) the music did recall the finest of DFAs output. Nearly always providing a bedrock, club-friendly beat, Austra unfolded vast canvasses of sound -- sometimes ethereal, other times booming, epic and operatic. The instrumentals and production -- again, greatly enhanced by the presence of real live instruments -- oscillated between devestatingly catchy and atmospheric while consistently serving as a frame for Stelmanis's incredibly rich vocals.

Rooted in early 2000s electro and proto-witch howlers like The Knife and Fever Ray, Austra performed with a gusto that was nothing short of completely captivating.

Critic's Notebook

The Crowd: Amiable norms, club kids, smell-goods.

Overheard in the Crowd: "What the fuck is witch house?"

Random Detail: Upon exiting the bathroom, a gentleman shoved us. Hard. We responded with, "What the fuck was that?" And then he said, "What the fuck was that?" which only confused us further. This situation ended in neither a fight, nor a hug.

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Matt Preira