Concert Review: Tegan and Sara Live at the Beacon Theatre, New York
T&S kickstart world tour promoting new album, Heartthrob, at New York’s Beacon Theater
Tegan and Sara, February 20th, Beacon Theatre, New York: The Quin sisters are 32 now, behind them is over a decade of parlaying dark matter – mostly the residue of love’s sticky mess – into indie-rock gems. The twins have come a long way from the days when they wore identical page boy haircuts and any distinction was essentially marked by their personalities – Tegan played the garrulous goofball, while Sara projected the broodier, snarky cynic. Today, they have manifested more discernible differences, beyond the original identifiers: songwriting and onstage banter [hinging on a puerile sense of sibling rivalry].
Performing live at the Beacon Theater, promoting the release of their new album, Heartthrob, they start to look lesser like twins and more like sisters who just look freakishly alike. For one, they wear their hair differently now – Tegan wears a curly quiff while Sara sticks to the clean, slickly styled, boyish crop. But what seemed a greater revelation this time around was that the quality of their voices was strongly distinguishable, as was, in a sense, the delivery. This rescheduled show was originally slotted for the date of the album release [January 20]. A flu-afflicted Sara had the duo cancel the initial dates and it was finally time to make good on her promise of a spectacular performance worth our buck and patience. The Beacon shows launched the duo’s world tour [through the US, Europe, Australia, Indonesia and Singapore]. Heartthrob is their most earnest attempt at mainstream pop – processing their experiences of love, loss, and betrayal, through Robyn-esque electro chic and digitally spun sound cocoons, the kind of songs that set the mascara streaming down your face while you are ‘dancing by yourself’ [in a pair of Kangoo jumps].
On stage, the sisters launched into the bouncy swirl on “Drove Me Wild,” a track off of the new record. Tegan took a shaky lead on the number, her voice a little unsure, as the Beacon charged up with the reverb of sturdy synth hooks and grooving guitars. The entire audience in the orchestra section got up from their seats and onto their feet. In spite of the fact that the sisters had already played a show at the same venue the day before, the spunkier Quin admitted to feeling “more nervous” on this night but Sara assured the audience that the concert would be “a thousand times better.” Sara shone – with her impassioned delivery, injecting the right mix of galvanic energy and empowering pathos – through the night. Her interactions with the audience involved stream of consciousness, existential meanderings. Talking about a recurring anxiety dream, where the audience is steadily leaving a baroquely designed concert hall [much like the Beacon] while the band is plugging in their instruments, she was grateful that almost everybody was still in the house. This was followed by a polite threat for those present to stick on till the very end because if the dream were to come true: “I don’t know what waits on the other side. So don’t fuck with me!”
Playing the album in its entirety, the set-list weaved in and out of old numbers like “Arrow,” “Where Does the Good Go,” and “Living Room,” and a bunch of tracks from their last album, The Con including “The Con,” “Back in your Head,” and “Call it Off.” Some songs were re-worked for the night : “Walking with a Ghost” was completely stripped down, the staccato rhythm rang with resounding clarity on an acoustic guitar, while “Alligator” was spliced with digital swagger – disco hemmed with steely, electronically synthesized drum beats.
The duo also gave a shout out to Cyndi Lauper – who was apparently in attendance – as they played their rendition of “When You Were Mine.” The twins made for powerful collaborators when their voices met on the build-up of songs, beautifully lifting, strengthening and texturing the main vocals; particularly on the refrain/chorus of songs like, “Now I’m All Messed Up” and “The Con.” The last song, pre-encore, was ‘Closer’ – the deliciously wicked track off Heartthrob – but somehow Tegan’s vocals didn’t quite manifest the track’s potency live, even her stressed inflections on the words that tease – “all you think of lately/is getting underneath me/all I dream of lately is how to get you underneath me” – didn’t hit the spot.
For the encore, the girls capsuled their back catalog into a quick medley – chasing Ted Gowans’s quick shifts on an acoustic guitar, they alternated songs like “My Number,” “Hop a Plane,” and “On Directing,” Sara compared the experience to break dancing. Tegan was incredible on supporting vocals, but tended to falter on solo parts. However, she redeemed herself when they rewound to the older stuff, perhaps still a more comfortable space for her. Her thrilling defiance and vocal vigor on the banjo-twanged, fast burning scorcher, “Living Room,” reinstated faith. They ended the night – with the audience still on their feet – by pulling us into the consuming vortex of “Feel it in My Bones.”
Plumbing the depths of emotional vulnerability, imperfection and rejection with the sonic boom of dance-pop, Tegan and Sara have mined a deeper quality in their songwriting, and the new record rewards their enterprise. But it might take a few more concerts for Tegan to completely own these new songs on stage.