Tegan and Sara show their pop side
It’s been both inspiring and weird to witness the evolution of Tegan and Sara from folk-singing Calgary twins to the hippest Canadian indie darlings around to the electro-synth dance-pop group they are now.
Weirder still is that they’re getting more radio airplay than ever – yet the draw doesn’t equal the high rotation. Barely 2,000 fans turned up at the Shaw Conference Centre Saturday night, a decent number, sure, a mix of teenagers and diehard older fans, but just three years ago, Tegan and Sara were pulling in twice that number, and three years before that did two sold-out nights at the Jube.
Maybe it’s too much change in too short a time. After a show that revealed the many phases of their career, mainly the pop side, Tegan and Sara Quinn, just turned 36, thanked the fans for sticking around through “all the different sounds, ideas and haircuts.” Talk among insiders was this band may have alienated the indie crowd with their seemingly sudden veer into the world of top-40 pop – which indie folk are said to despise. A younger audience has clearly entered, but not enough to fill an arena, not yet.
The show was a bit alienating, heavy on the generically pleasant and bombastic production epidemic in the concert industry. Too much, too clean, too catchy. It’s real musicians (all dressed in white) playing real instruments in front of perfect layers of backing tracks. Drives you crazy trying to figure out who’s playing what, or if it’s a robot, and in end you don’t even care. The “live” concert experience has been cheapened somewhat.
But not ruined. The sisters had their powerful voices and bubbly personalities going for them – even if some of their catchiest songs wouldn’t be out of place in Britney Spears’ setlist. (You kiss me like your) Boyfriend is probably the worst offender, even when you know comes from a lesbian perspective. Their lyrics don’t usually specify gender.
The notable exception to a show so smooth that it was sometimes dull came inevitably in the “rest of the band leaves the stage” section. Just the two of them, one acoustic guitar and two powerful voices, was magic, proving why they were such a big deal to begin with. I Was Married, from 2007’s The Con album, was terrific. Soon after with pulsing piano was a minimalist treatment of the heartbreak song Nineteen, another fine moment. Then came Closer – the hit that broke the duo wide open – with the exaggerated vocal scoop that drives you crazy as it sticks in your head, and it was back to the homogeneous hit parade.
You might wonder if this is a case of the big hit shaping the future of the artist, or whether radio really has much power to sell concert tickets. Some of the biggest concert draws in metal get no radio airplay whatsoever. Or you might wonder if Tegan and Sara have been spending too much time in America hanging out with heavyweight producers and fooling around with synthesizers and backing tracks, that maybe they’ve lost their way. Or would that be presumptuous? At least they’re taking risks. Most of the best artists confound and confuse their fans from time to time.
Before an opening set from Shura – an echoey British 1980s sort of act cut from the same electro-synth cloth as the headliner – was an interesting act from right here in Edmonton. Too Attached was a duo notable for a transsexual frontperson. Resplendent in a sparkly blue hotpants outfit, Vivek Shraya came off like a young, East Indian Boy George, or maybe the guy from Dead or Alive. Hello? Any Tegan and Sara fans remember Dead or Alive, you spin me right round like a record, baby? Never mind. Vivek and his brother-DJ Shamik also evoked the ‘80s with airy dance tunes, talked about gender neutral pronouns, and sent a shout-out to the supporters of the trans community. That sure got a big cheer from the young people in the crowd.