Tegan and Sara at First Avenue, 3/6/13
Photo by Erik Hess
Tegan and Sara
First Avenue, Minneapolis
Wednesday, March 6, 2013
Building trust with an audience is sacrosanct for certain musicians, and Tegan and Sara are now in the bumpiest stage of that relationship with their fans. With Heartthrob, their first new studio album in four years, the earnest acoustic strummers hit pop paydirt and several new synth-based tracks -- including "Closer," already their biggest hit -- could be played harmoniously alongside material from their Canadian countrywoman Carly Rae Jepsen. Somehow, this sonic makeover hasn't eliminated the twin sisters' trademark quirky harmonies, or the hyper-personal songwriting that helped make their base feel so close to them in the first place. So what's the problem?
Tegan and Sara Quin may live in different cities and be the faces of a business -- a thriving one at that -- but sisterhood and, by extension, family will always be one of their key selling points. Seeing an artist grow out of the phase that endeared us to them can be a straining experience, and segments of the audience at First Avenue were having trouble coming to grips with the bass drops and keyboard loops now associated with Tegan and Sara. There were others who just danced their faces off.
Anyone listening closely over the past decade might've guessed this stage in the Tegan and Sara's artistic evolution was coming. Launching the night was "Back in Your Head," from 2007's infectious The Con, which featured production guidance from Death Cab for Cutie's Chris Walla in the studio. With their asymmetrical parted hair swooping in opposite directions, the sisters strapped on acoustic guitars, and a four-guy backing band provided a wallop right behind them. And like the best of T&S, the song straddles a punk rawness, confessions ("I get a little scared"), buoyant hooks, and the sisters' interplay standing eight feet apart from each other.
This would prove to be one of the few moments not attached to a rumble, and Tegan and Sara were smart to warm the crowd up with Toronto synth-pop act Diana as an opener. Sinewy frontwoman Carmen Elle and her group bared pathos through her sensitive lyrics, but it also came across via a saxophone freakout, and some low end that might've loosened any dental work in the front row's mouths.
After "Walking With a Ghost" bathed the slim Quins in red light, they slid into one of Heartthrob's least overtly dance-oriented tracks, "I Was a Fool." And though this track isn't a contender for their greatest hits album, their quick back-and-forth vocal interplay at the song's midpoint is so clever and fun to watch that it was a shame to see it go.
Photos by Erik Hess
Then, with purple light coating their grinning faces, Tegan and Sara quickly transitioned into "I'm Not Your Hero," a song with enough generalities that it could be discussing any wealth of political conversations or beefs with certain rappers -- or none of them. It's a rocker that could've fit nicely on 2009's Sainthood, and it gave their backing band a chance to open up a bit more. With the crowd well into their first drink -- apologies to the many who had "X" on the backs of their hands -- the thuds began via "I Couldn't Be Your Friend," which admittedly had a certain Pacific Sunwear charm to it.
"This is a really attractive audience," Sara said after "Arrow," and was chided by her sister for flirting. "Everybody is beautiful to someone," Sara continued. "But some nights I look out into the crowd and say 'not for me.'" And this transitioned into one of the best-loved T&S songs, "The Con." Though it started a tad pitchy, a large percentage of the audience sang along and it eventually settled into into its spiky pop-punk groove.
The night became a game of cat and mouse between the new, and increasingly bumping tracks, and songs from The Con (and a couple older). Different patches of the crowd would respond heartily to each, but a dip back to the stomping country twang of 2002's "Living Room" got people loud. The acoustic folk in "Frozen" similarly provided a reminder that Tegan and Sara have never, ever been just about one sound. And, if they're going to continue to thrive, innovation is part of keeping their creative partnership healthy.
Photos by Erik Hess
With a backdrop of butterflies, "Nineteen" proved the farewell to this memory lane trip -- with emphasis on the "Byeeeeee" in the chorus. If there was ever a question about the size of Tegan and Sara's Cyndi Lauper fandom -- they were born in '80 after all -- "Shock to Your System" shows it is gigantic. And then the "dance party" segment of the show really hit.
"Alligator" was presented in remixed fashion, and then one of the most emotion-ridden of their Heartthrob songs "Now I'm All Messed Up." It conveys the middle ground of a breakup, and with one sister singing "Go" and the other "Please stay," it literally showed how the same face can tell you two different things at once. Brilliance.
Then, for the two separate camps, the moment that everyone was either anticipating or dreading arrived. With a resounding four-on-the-floor backing beat, Tegan and Sara launched "Closer." Sorry old-timers, but it's time to just give in. While the lyrics in the chorus are more likely attributed to a lover, "So let's make things physical / I won't treat you like you're oh so typical," they applied to the fans in the room too. They recognize they have an atypically dedicated group of followers -- enough to sell out First Ave. Sure, this is pop, but the substance within these new songs shows the bond between the stage and the crowd has held strong.
Personal Bias: Sainthood is one of my favorite pop-punk records, and I really wanted to hear "Hell." Maybe add it to the lengthy, fan-placating medley of acoustic snippets they tucked into the encore? Also, at least one previous setlist had a cover of Prince's "When You Were Mine," but not in Minneapolis. Alas.
Two females per every male. Impressive sight lines for anyone above 5' 7".
Random Notebook Dump: "There's a shitload of gear off to the side of the stage."
Overheard: "I saw your mohawk."
Back in Your Head
Walking With a Ghost
I Was a Fool
I'm Not Your Hero
I Couldn't Be Your Friend
Love They Say
Where Does The Good Go
Burn Your Life Down
How Come You Don't Want Me
Call It Off
Shock to Your System
Drove Me Wild
Now I'm All Messed Up
Medley (My Number, Monday Monday Monday, You Wouldn't Like Me, Superstar, Knife Going In, Hop a Plane, Sentimental Tune, On Directing, I Know I Know I Know)
Feel It in My Bones
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