Concert Review: You still don’t know Tegan and Sara?

| Cadenza Reporter

If you don’t know Tegan and Sara (T and S) by now, you’re missing out. For over 10 years, the indie pop/new wave Canadian duo has put forth some of the most lyrically complex, emotionally resonant music out there. They’ve toured with Ben Folds, Rufus Wainwright and The Killers, and they’ve performed at Coachella, Lollapalooza and Lilith Fair. And they’ve also been nominated for four Juno Awards in the past four years (Canada’s equivalent of the Grammy Awards).

The key to their style is their originality and sense of play. For them, each of their six albums is an experiment, a playground for new musical ideas and influences. Their 2007 album “The Con” had an acoustic/folksy feel (a la Rilo Kiley) whereas their 2010 album “Sainthood” is more punk (a la The Cure). Their last two albums, which were produced by Chris Walla, guitarist for Death Cab for Cutie, are an enormous step forward in regard to both production quality and consistency. “The Con” produced a string of hits including “Nineteen,” “Call It Off,” “Back in Your Head” and the title song “The Con,” all of which have greatly contributed to their growing popularity.

This past Friday, April 2, I saw the T and S show, and it shook me. There were two opening bands. The first was the immensely talented Holly Miranda, who released her second solo album, “The Magician’s Private Library,” this past February. Miranda oozed charm and confidence as she took over the stage with her jazzy-folk voice and outrageous range. The second opener, a folk/indie band called Steel Train, left me unimpressed. The lead singer lacked charisma and vocals, not to mention the band’s mundane, Wonder Bread lyrics. By the end of the set, I was praying the sound equipment would give out.

For the main show, the background behind T and S was a white scrim, with a drawn, paint-by-numbers image. There were lights shooting out from the stage in deep purples and blues, projecting intricate patterns onto the walls and ceiling. The set was a mix of their six albums, with the bulk coming from their most popular and well-known last two. The Pageant was almost completely packed with devoted T and S fans. The size and scale of the show was bigger than I expected. There were only a few guitarists, bass players and one drummer, but I still felt disappointed. T and S are best bare bones, when you can just appreciate the intelligence of their lyrics and their unique, rich voices. Luckily I got my wish during the encore. Before the end of the main set, Tegan playfully commented that the band would return in five minutes for an encore (something bands normally don’t say outright). When the two returned, they were alone, unaccompanied by their backup guitarists and drummers. It was the concert I’d been craving, the two of them singing, and playing guitar without embellishment: brutal, honest and intimate. In a much-appreciated move, T and S ended the night with one of the first songs off their very first album.

The concert was an A+. I whole-heartedly recommend you give them, and Holly Miranda a listen. The best way to get introduced to T and S is to go to YouTube and find their podcast, by plugging in “tegan and sara sessions.” Tegan and Sara are by no means a new band, but they are definitely worth checking out.