Tegan and Sara
At the Commodore on Saturday, September 22
For such ostensibly fun-loving gals, Tegan and Sara sure traffic in some stark, emotional songs. This is most apparent when the two are on-stage, where their good-natured quips and veteran comedy-duo timing is offset by tunes inspired by insecurity, depression, and loneliness.
In contrast to the group's two shows in July at the Vancouver East Cultural Centre–at least one of which seemed more like a party than a concert–Saturday afternoon's performance was way more dark-night-of-the-soul than An Evening at the Improv. This was especially true of the set's first third, which featured songs off their latest, The Con. The rueful remorse of "Call It Off", the tangled feelings of "Relief Next to Me", and the visceral pain of "Like O, Like H" established a seriously introspective tone, one that the Quin twins can't seem to resist returning to in their folk-pop-punk template.
Fortunately, Tegan and Sara–who alternate lead vocals–never wallow for long, and their set was also shot through with blasts of melodic, full-tilt rock. The title tracks from 2004's So Jealous and The Con, together with those albums' respective singles "Walking With a Ghost" and "Back in Your Head", provided party-atmosphere relief from tunes like the dour, Depeche Mode–influenced electro-pop of "Are You Ten Years Ago". The almost a cappella "I Was Married" beautifully showcased the Quins' intricate, intertwining vocals, and "Hop a Plane" gave guitarist Ted Gowans a chance to let loose.
Dispensing with much of the between-song banter of that July show, and mixing up the selection a little more this time out, the siblings and their three-piece backing band played a more assured and better-paced concert. What little dialogue remained was prime Tegan and Sara, though. Having performed together since their teens, the two have impeccable timing, and they're a joy to watch. Mocking the way she doesn't say anything all day, then blurts out everything once she's on-stage–"That isn't normal," she noted–Sara proved herself once again to be the more talkative one. For many of her sister's tangents, Tegan assumed the role of straight man, making skeptical or impatient faces while waiting for her sibling to wind down or, occasionally, make her point. By the time they reached their encore, which included the proven crowd pleaser "Living Room" and a surprisingly sincere version of Rihanna's Top 40 hit "Umbrella", Tegan and Sara had the audience enraptured.
Northern State came as close to stealing the show as is possible in a room full of die-hard Tegan and Sara fans. The New York–based trio traded rhymes and harmonized on choruses on tunes from its latest, Can I Keep This Pen?, and the group's spirited energy on tracks like "Three Amigas" and "Good Distance" was infectious. The perfect opener for Tegan and Sara on a Saturday afternoon of girl power, Northern State can't come back to headline soon enough.