Sunday, February 19th. The night of the Canadian pop invasion. Down at the 3Arena, bona fide pop megastar Drake was beginning the first of his two-night stint, whilst across town twin duo Tegan and Sara were to play a packed Vicar Street.
Whilst relatively speaking Drake may have taken a speedy chairlift to the top of pop mountain, the Calgary twins have been putting in the slow, hard graft as they make their way up.
For those who don’t know, Tegan and Sara Quin have been performing together for 22 years. The majority of their career would be loosely described as indie-pop, but over their last two records, 2013’s ‘Heartthrob’ and last year’s ‘Love You to Death’ they’ve reworked themselves into a far poppier outfit. Think Taylor Swift, but without the drama (or having Kanye as your nemesis)
During tonight’s show it’s crystal clear that we’re in the synth-pop part of their career. For a start, their backing band, consisting of drums, bass and keys, are all decked out in all white. Either they’re painting houses on the side and haven’t spilled a drop (unlikely) or they’re going for a look here.
Another clue is the lack of amps and the abundance of floor space. A minute detail, maybe, but a factor that becomes apparent once both Tegan and Sara begin pacing every square inch of the stage like seasoned pros.
Musically everything before ‘Heartthrob’ gets a sonic facelift more in line with their current manifesto. Sometimes it works wonders, like when they give Sainthood’s trashy two minute sugar rush Northshore an overhaul that moves it from Green Day-esque pop-punk territory straight into early Fight Like Apes camp. Walking With A Ghost is morphed into a beefier proposition and delivered with a new found confidence in comparison to the album version. This new approach does have some casualties, like Living Room’, which trades in its plucky acoustic treatment for synth arpeggios that strip it of most of its personality.
One song that retains it’s acoustic elements is the title track from 2007’s ‘The Con’. Armed with a single acoustic guitar, the twins take centre stage to celebrate the songs tenth year with an effortless singalong. For all the musical bombast that came before this song, it’s the one with the stripped back acoustic approach that garners the most emotion from those in attendance.
Given their hefty back catalogue, it’s great to see the more recent additions go down so well live. Not many bands with eight albums to their name could get away with over half their set being relatively new. It makes sense though, as this more polished sound suits them so much and the extra production work put into the newer songs shows.
Album opener Closer is brimming with confidence in its simplicity. The jittering ping-pong bounce of Goodbye, Goodbye is a delight to see live. Fist-pumping synth anthem Boyfriend is enthralling enough that not a single person in attendance pays any heed to the blaring fire alarm that goes off during it. Afterward we’re told they’ve got one more song to go. We’re not sure if this is a normal gig notification or a subtle way of telling us to ignore the fire alarm if it comes back. Closing tonight is synth tour de force Stop Desire, a song that takes on an a new heft when played live.
It’s not too often you have an act with 20 years under their belt and you’re excited to see where they go next. For Tegan and Sara it feels like their best is yet to come, both musically and in what their live show entails. They have the chops so, all that’s needed now is for them continue their climb into the big leagues.