When surveying the expansive landscape of pop culture, Tegan & Sara manage to turn up just about everywhere. From festival darlings years ago, to singing The Lego Movie’s memorable theme “Everything Is Awesome” at the Oscars, to everywhere in between (collaborations or appearances with the likes of Lady Gaga and Katy Perry), the duo has run the gamut.
Upon arrival to the stage of the Teragram Ballroom on Tuesday night, the Quin sisters were greeted with the piercing, collective shriek of a rabid Angeleno fanbase that had lined up around the block three hours before showtime. Appearing as part of a handful of warm up shows in advance of the June 3 release of their new album, Love You to Death, they began alone on stage, sharing one guitar between the two, harkening back to the days of Lilith.
“Now I’m All Messed Up” was performed acoustically for only the second time ever. The penultimate song off of 2013’s Heartthrob sounded noticeably naked as Sara strummed barely more than a bass note throughout the tune. Like virtually all songs in Tegan and Sara’s catalogue, the track batted about the confusing feelings surrounding love, and in this case, the neurotic ones that stem from love gone awry.
There aren’t many artists who are similarly capable of taking a singular theme and not only exploring it, but dissecting it, and re-dissecting it, returning to the well over and over. Jimmy Buffett’s boats, beaches, and bars escapism comes to mind, as does of course, the dearly departed Prince’s lascivious eroticism. Whereas Prince manifested his very own R-rated sexual world, the one created by Tegan & Sara is decidedly PG. That is not to say that it lacks in bark – just mostly in bite.
The main part of the set was slick with the pop laid on thick. Many moments proved infectious by the sheer playful bounce of the songs. Others were a bit more introspective, only to be interrupted by an occasional electronic thump, an element that may have been adopted during their time working with Tiësto. All in all, the live production almost could have passed for studio work, as each ribbon of pop rang clean and true.
The excellent new song “U-Turn” trotted out a welcome 80’s bass line, while “Nineteen” still broods, nine years after its release on the closer-to-analog The Con. “I Was a Fool” lamented past mistakes, wondering, “how many times could I pack…love like ours is never fixed…..still I stuck around.” The chorus explores territory that wouldn’t be out of place if extracted and inserted on Alanis Morissette’s 2002 Under Rug Swept.
Tegan & Sara front a fairly lean live machine that includes drummer Brendan Buckley, and keyboardist Gabriel McNair (No Doubt). Apart from the occasional guitar traded between the sisters, and an electronic pad at Tegan’s side, there was little more. Given the fulsome sound of the show, this came across as initially surprising. Perhaps helpful was the spectacle created by smartly conceived lighting, which appeared to crib from the vertical opaque columns used by Radiohead on their 2008 In Rainbows tour.
One song not played at the Teragram, 2009’s “On Directing”, self-consciously reflects about “talking like a teen.” It’s a youthful lyric that in many ways represents their mostly monochromatic theme of love-as-mystery. If not for the acoustic numbers that bookended the set, or the numerous instances of the audience belting out lyrics as if part of a religious service, at casual glance the performance could have been mistaken for otherwise forgettable, if earnest and well executed, mall rock.
The set closer came via their biggest hit, “Closer,” which hit hard, like any song with 28 million spins on Spotify would. It revealed the raciest lyric of the evening, as the sisters sang “All you think of lately is getting underneath me”. It was a PG-13 moment that would have made Prince proud.
Call It Off (acoustic)
Now I’m All Messed Up (acoustic)
Back in Your Head
I Was a Fool
How Come You Don’t Want Me
Drove Me Wild
Walking with a Ghost
The Con (acoustic)
Where Does the Good Go (acoustic)