“We weren’t always this perfect,” said Tegan Quin, dryly, onstage last night at the Fitzgerald Theater. “We weren’t always LGBTQ international icons.”
There were a lot of layers to the quip. It got a laugh because although it could read as sarcastic, Tegan and her sister/bandmate Sara Quin have in fact been called “icons” by publications ranging from the CBC to Vanity Fair to GQ to…well, you can Google it yourself. So in that sense, Tegan was just being honest.
She was also getting at the truth that the twin sisters today, at 39, come across as polished and poised: smart and accessible musicians, articulate interview subjects, sharp dressers, generous and principled. Have you ever heard anyone say anything bad about Tegan and Sara? If so, I’m sorry that you’ve been hanging out with a terrible human being.
Their new album, book, and tour, though, are about reconnecting with their younger selves, before they were “Tegan and Sara,” even before they were “Sara and Tegan,” when they were teenage girls figuring themselves out — and figuring each other out. As Tegan later mentioned, one of the revelations of the process of writing their memoir High School was just how much each sister didn’t know about what the other had been going through in those formative years.
They finally communicated those truths in print, but in the process they also discovered that they’d been sharing them in song. The album, Hey, I’m Just Like You (“…a little messed up and blue,” continue the lyrics of the title song), consists of songs they wrote as adolescents. The songs are a little less subtle than the ones they’d write in adulthood, but they’re still great.
Last night Tegan praised the songs, emphasizing the fact that Hey, I’m Just Like You isn’t a nostalgia exercise or a rarities compilation or a gimmick. It’s a series of vital statements, now coming full circle as the signer-songwriters bring the songs they wrote as teens to the fans they’ve earned as adults.
They can now ask those fans for a bit of patience: patience at maybe not being able to get a ticket (the Fitz is less than half the size of the State, the local venue they most typically play), patience at being asked to keep phones in pockets, patience with a format that requires attentive silence but rewards attendees with a new and revelatory kind of Tegan and Sara show.
Throughout the evening, the two women — playing without additional musicians — alternated songs with readings from High School, printed in journal-like books they pulled from a shelf at stage right. Most of the songs were from the new album and thus thematically related to the book, but they also played a few of the most emotionally vulnerable songs they’ve written and recorded as adults: a powerful solo version of “I Was a Fool” by Tegan, a keyboard duet (with metronome!) on “Call It Off,” a singalong closing rendition of “Where Does the Good Go.”
The Canadian sisters have been playing in the Twin Cities for almost two decades now, and Sara offered a tongue-in-cheek speculation that residents of Minneapolis and St. Paul might have a special affinity for pairs, even among those who don’t recognize the musicians. “No one knows who we are, but they’re obsessed with us,” she said, citing a hotel clerk who looked at the sisters and asked, “Are you both twins?”
Tegan and Sara also brought a video reel, with home-shot footage from their teen years interspersed throughout the night. The clips ranged from goofy to poignant, including a joint interview in which their first girlfriends are behind the camera asking the sisters questions about homosexuality for a school project.
In this context, the passages from the book took on new resonance, with the sisters sometimes trading lines to contrast their perspectives in a condensed form of the way that happens in the book. Tegan and Sara each had time alone onstage, although strange vocalizations from somewhere outside the auditorium (a baby crying? people talking in the lobby? sidewalk drama?) occasionally broke the spell.
The artists have played stripped-down versions of their songs before — most notably on The Con tenth anniversary tour, which came to the State Theatre in 2017 — but their last three albums, the latest included, all sport big and bright pop production, so it was a unique opportunity to hear intimate renditions of the new/old songs from Hey, I’m Just Like You as well as songs like “White Knuckles,” which ended with a stunning a cappella coda.
While the book includes honest, moving stories about the authors’ relationships with their friends, lovers, and family members, their tour presentation makes clear that the relationships at the heart of the book are with themselves, and with each other.
In a career distinguished by kindness, Tegan and Sara are now stepping back to be kind to each other — in the sense of communicating honestly about a tumultuous period in their lives — and to themselves. Maybe, they suggested, the shows will leave some of their listeners inspired to be a little bit more gentle with their own younger selves. Try it: look at one of your old school photos, at that kid who’s smiling on the outside and full of turmoil inside, and say, “Hey! I’m just like you.”
Hey, I’m Just Like You (Hey, I’m Just Like You, 2019)
Don’t Believe the Things They Tell You (They Lie) (Hey, I’m Just Like You)
Keep Them Close ‘Cause They Will F–k You Too (Hey, I’m Just Like You)
I’ll Be Back Someday (Hey, I’m Just Like You)
Boyfriend (Love You to Death, 2016)
Divided (Under Feet Like Ours, 1999)
I Was a Fool (Heartthrob, 2013)
Call It Off (The Con, 2007)
Back In Your Head (The Con)
White Knuckles (Love You to Death)
Please Help Me (Hey, I’m Just Like You)
Where Does the Good Go (So Jealous, 2004)