Tegan and Sara share queer agenda in Edmonton

Tegan and Sara are Alberta-bred – twin sisters and openly queer. They used to play at the old Edmonton institution known as the Sidetrack Café.

The connection to Edmonton is fitting because the crowd who filled the Jubilee Auditorium on Tuesday night looked like a throwback to the good ol’ days at The Roost with rainbow scarves, rainbow Mohawks and the odd Halloween costume thrown in for good measure. They’ve kept a connection to young fans with their mix of vulnerability and intimacy – and this crowd was young.

The Quin sisters were an entertaining act for Halloween night, even though Sara admits that she really isn’t into the holiday.

They’re on a stripped down acoustic tour, Con X, to commemorate the 10-year-old album The Con. The concept of the tour, said Sara, was to focus on the lyrics, and play in theatres rather than places where everyone is jumping up and down and dancing. This is a change for the pair, and from the stage Sara admitted that it freaks her out a little to have the audience so still.

A decade ago the duo was criticized for a “lack of queerness” in their music. Rolling Stone reviewer Robert Christgau quipped, “As lesbians who never reference their oppression or even their sexuality, Tegan and Sara don’t have men to lash out at, put up with or gripe about.”

Whatever their rationale at the time, the two activists now crack jokes about the homosexual agenda. “We try to keep pushing the agenda in as positive of a way as possible,” said Tegan.

Their music is beguiling mixture of emo-pop (written by Tegan) and folk (from Sara). The show opened with a screen emblazoned by The Cons album art – two tree trunks raising up to reveal the sisters. The lights changed with the moods of the songs.

In the song Knife Going In, the lights painted them and their accompanying musicians in a red wash, while they sang, “Not enough to kill me, I thought it’d happen fast, but I’m feeling it now and I feel anxious, sleeping inches from me, I let it pass.”

The lack of percussion instruments meant there was more focus on the lyrics, and the tempo of the concert seemed to be downbeat. They played all 14 tracks of The Con from Nineteen to Living Room, joking about the depressing themes in the album as they went.

The Quin twins defy attempts to place them into categories. While they are unabashed feminists and queer artists, and yes, they wear black, they don’t radiate the affectless-disenfranchised-sad-person ethos you would expect from their music. The phrase “tampon rock” was used pejoratively to describe their first album’s mix of power pop ballads and introspective relationship songs. This time, the jokes about tampons came from Sara.

“They buy my cats a good 45 minutes of entertainment,” she said.

In a way that was fitting to the intimacy of the show, the twins (who are from Calgary) told stories about their Edmonton connection. Sara talked about being eight years old and wishing her dad would take them to the Fantasyland Hotel to sleep in the truck-themed room. The riffing between songs was entertaining and sisterly. When Tegan said she was going to pick up a topical cream for her wrist, which she said feels broken from holding the guitar, Sara quipped that they’ve started a new foundation for her sister’s wrist.

Their Con X tour benefits their eponymous foundation which centers on helping young queer girls and women and providing services to young LGBTQ people. Of every ticket sold on the tour, $1 goes to the foundation. Locally, they’ve pledged to help Camp fYrefly, which offers queer youth a chance to explore their identity in a safe and inclusive summer camp.