When Tegan and Sara first stepped out onto Variety Playhouse’s vividly lit stage Tuesday evening, I was reminded of that iconic Diane Arbus shot of those creepy little twins standing side by side. With matching oversized gray button-downs, skinny black jeans, and brown pixie-mullets, the duo initially seemed somewhat mechanical, if not a little gimmicky. In an, “ah, the lesbian twins from Canada have arrived” kind of way. Nevertheless, the crowd—picture Lillith Fair gone hipster, with a sprinkling of enlightened teenyboppers and middle-aged Grey’s Anatomy fans—went wild. I, on the other hand, sandwiched between a particularly boisterous Lillith contingent and what appeared to be some kind of specially designated area for couples to make out, was alone, sleep-deprived, and slightly grumpy.
So there I stood, a lone sourpuss in a sea of amped-up superfans, wishing the individual behind me would aim her catcalling slightly away from my eardrum, when Tegan and Sarah strapped on their guitars and suddenly launched into an eclectic series of vibrant tracks from their new album Sainthood. Between the sparkly synth-driven electro-pop of “Alligator,” the pre-Blitz Yeah Yeah Yeahs vigor of “Northshore” and the delightfully volatile lyricism of “Sentimental Tune” (“Hard-hearted, don't worry, I'm ready for a fight/Unnerved, the nerve, you're nervous/Nervous that I'm right”), the new tracks were well-received and got the show off to a lively start. The band then moved into a stretch of older favorites, such as “Walking with a Ghost,” “I Bet It Stung,” and their biggest hit, “Where Does the Good Go,” inciting a surprisingly melodic audience sing-a-long that demonstrated the ardor of Tegan and Sara’s loyal fan base without alienating any of their more cursory supporters.
Tegan and Sara keep their songs short and sweet—nothing on Sainthood lasts more than 3½ minutes—allowing them to power through quite a few tracks in their 2-odd hours of stage time. Then again, a good chunk of that time transpired in their supposedly notorious banter. While the initial between-track comedy routines were of the lame “So this is Hotlanta? Feels more like COLD-lanta” variety, they eventually established a sense of mutual appreciation and affection deep enough to make the spacious venue feel intimate. The sisters took turns sharing youthful anecdotes and cultural musings, from stories about adolescent relationships (“a slippery slope to gaydom”) to anti-middle school tirades (“my best friend became a middle school teacher, and I asked her, ‘are you out of your fucking mind?’”) to ruminations on the apparent extinction of the slow dance (“now all the kids just want to, like… grind up on it”).
Like their repartee, Tegan and Sara’s sound remained highly accessible and all about blending, whether through their incongruent mix of crunchy guitar riffs and bubbly synth hooks or the uniquely familial harmonies of their almost-but-not-quite-identical intonations. Likewise, their lyrics—which they write independently, each singing lead on her own songs—managed to sound at once beseeching and authoritative, heartbroken yet sensible, passionate yet guarded. They were constantly whipping out new instruments: a series of different guitars, synthesizers, tambourines, even a maraca.
I’ll admit it, I was impressed; especially during their stripped-down encore set, when the duo managed to pull off a gorgeously layered, sans-Tiësto acoustic version of their deviant trance hit, “Feel It In My Bones.” In fact, Tegan and Sara kept me engaged enough to withstand not one, not two, but five near-tramplings via 300-lb security guard inexplicably hurling himself down the aisle, and that, my friends, is saying something.
-Story and Photos by Hilary Cadigan