“I thought this show would be like going back to college,” gushed a friend of mine as we left First Avenue after Tegan and Sara‘s June 16 show. “And it was!” I appreciated her sentiment, but to me the show felt more like going back to grad school: a little less raucous, a little more measured, a little more seasoned than a baccalaureate bacchanal.
Monday night marked the second time the Canadian duo and their band have come through town since releasing their latest album, Heartthrob, in January of last year. Both shows have been in First Ave’s Mainroom, to the delight of the fans who managed to grab tickets to the quickly sold-out performances—by the time of 2009′s Sainthood, twin sisters Sara and Tegan Quin had worked their way up to the big theaters on Hennepin. (Hear the duo’s performance last year in the Current’s studios.)
This second go-round behind Heartthrob is designated “the Let’s Make Things Physical Tour,” a nod to a lyric from the album’s pulsing breakout single “Closer”—a line that in turn nods to Olivia Newton-John’s 1981 song “Physical,” a hit from an era that influenced Heartthrob‘s sparkling pop-friendly synths. Rounding out the 80s theme, Tegan took the stage wearing an outsized tie-dye t-shirt (bearing the name of tour opener the Courtneys) over skin-tight pants that might as well have been legwarmer-ready tights.
Heartthrob was a departure for Tegan and Sara, whose sound had been moving in a more dense, jagged direction with Sainthood. Working with producers including Greg Kurstin (Kelly Clarkson, Pink), the two created a tight, cohesive collection that’s both the most accessible album of their career and one of their best, coating their trademark wry lyrics and yearning choruses with a sugary, radio-friendly veneer. They’ve been rewarded with new fans—such as my friend’s college-age sister, who didn’t recognize the pair’s 2003 fan favorite “Monday Monday Monday”—and the blocks of Heartthrob tracks that opened and closed last night’s set were met with screams that more than equalled those heard for the likes of “Living Room” and “Walking With a Ghost.”
The new material had also been well-received when the two played First Ave in March 2013, but with a year longer for the songs to have sunk in with both the artists and the fans, they now sound like full-fledged tentpoles. Arrangements of new songs like “Goodbye, Goodbye” and “I Couldn’t Be Your Friend” are tougher and louder, inviting fans to shout along; power ballad “How Come You Don’t Want Me” gets an epic introduction that sets the song up to be a cathartic lead-in to set-concluding “Closer.”
Things never quite reached those soaring emotional heights, though—nor was there quite as much boogying as the tour’s name, and explicit onstage instructions, suggested there should be. Tegan and Sara make incredible records, and they work incredibly hard to forge meaningful connections with their fans when they play live. Somehow, though, the charming looseness of the pair’s stage banter never quite translates into musical looseness; the songs never breathe quite as comfortably in a live setting as they do on record. The amped-up approach also didn’t do much for Tegan and Sara’s older material; “The Con” sounded rushed and brittle, and “Alligator” wasn’t even as danceable as the more loping album version. The best new arrangement, a full-band “Call It Off” that evoked 70s pop country, was half-submerged by its encore-opening slot.
Even if things didn’t get quite as physical as the band might have hoped, Tegan and Sara delivered—as they always do—on a number of other levels. We were treated to a reminisce about the pair’s Minnesota headlining debut at the 400 Bar in 2001; an extended comic riff on spanking; and an especially expansive night from Sara, who’s not typically the chattier of the sisters but seemed to have had a quarter put in her before taking the stage last night.
The final number of the three-song encore was a treat: a shimmering cover of Pete Townshend’s “Let My Love Open the Door” (1980), dedicated to—who else?—us. Thanks, Quins. Right back atcha.
“Goodbye, Goodbye” (Heartthrob, 2013)
“I Couldn’t Be Your Friend” (Heartthrob)
“I’m Not Your Hero” (Heartthrob)
“I Was a Fool” (Heartthrob)
“Back In Your Head” (The Con, 2007)
“The Con” (The Con)
“Walking with a Ghost” (So Jealous, 2006)
“Monday, Monday, Monday” (If It Was You, 2003)
“Sentimental Tune” (Sainthood, 2009)
“On Directing” (Sainthood)
“Nineteen” (The Con)
“Now I’m All Messed Up” (Heartthrob)
“Drove Me Wild” (Heartthrob)
“Shock to Your System” (Heartthrob)
“How Come You Don’t Want Me” (Heartthrob)
“Call It Off” (The Con)
“Living Room” (If It Was You)
“Let My Love Open the Door”