Hometown heroes Tegan and Sara deliver two decades of hits at the Commodore

The acoustic section: divine. The slowed-down synth remixes: strange.

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      It was the last night of the Crybaby album tour, and Tegan Quin didn’t know what day it was.

      The more extroverted of the twin sister duo bounded onto the stage at the Commodore on November 20, a wintry Sunday evening, declaring it to be a Friday night and urging the gathered crowd to party. 

      Then, a dozen songs later, she announced it was Tuesday night. 

      I know what day it is,” Sara responded smugly. A beat. “It’s Monday.” 

      Besides an astonishing back catalogue that spans 24 years, 10 studio albums, and almost as many genres, Tegan and Sara are also known for their onstage banter. 

      The sisters have spent more than half their lives playing gigs, evolving from weed-smoking folksy Calgary teens into indie rock superstars. Part of the charm of their live shows is seeing this window into their relationship. Yes, it’s played up for stage, but it still feels like getting to shoot the shit with a couple of your funny friends. 

      Opener Tomberlin started the night off with her brand of country-tinged folk pop. Accompanied by a friend playing clarinet and guitar, her acoustic songs were received quietly but appreciatively. She played sitting down, making it hard to see more than the top of her head from the crowded floor. The biggest cheer came when she asked who had dated an alcoholic, the inspiration for the stand-out song “Sunstruck.” Her pretty voice and self-deprecating humour garnered plenty of good vibes, but little dancing. 

      In contrast, Tegan and Sara burst onto stage with “Stop Desire,” a synthy sing-along from 2016’s album of the same name. From there, they plowed through three more songs without stopping, alternating which sister sang lead and which played guitar. Multi-instrumentalist Izzy Bolivar and drummer Adam Christgau provided energetic backing, with Bolivar mouthing along to songs and beaming as he bounced around the stage. 

      “It’s the worst to play your hometown!” Tegan jokes at one point. “People see you all the time: grocery shopping, getting coffee, picking up your dog’s shit.” (I, personally, am convinced I saw Tegan and her girlfriend one time on a SkyTrain platform, though I also recognize that in the pandemic era, it could have been almost any gay brunette with a stylish mask.) 

      In keeping with their music’s meandering from folk through rock, indie and synth-pop, the show had a number of genre shifts. “On Directing” is brash and punchy. “The Con” is performed perfectly in-sync, lending it a rhythmic and almost unnerving quality. Fan-favourite “Nineteen,” though, is transformed from a guitar-driven lament into a slowed-down melancholy vibe track shimmering with dark electronics. There’s also a three-song acoustic block, with “Where Does The Good Go,” “Call It Off” and “Dark Come Soon” getting stripped-down treatments. 

      The one misstep was the ending. “Closer,” a joyous dance pop anthem, received the same downbeat treatment as “Nineteen.” While that made a major key chorus shift more rewarding, the muted energy dulled the edge of what should have been a barnstorming final track. 

      The twins waved and gladhanded—Tegan ebulliently, Sara reservedly—and then the crowd hollered for an encore. But one didn’t come. Even the house staff seemed confused: the lights didn’t come up ’til roadies appeared on stage to pull up setlists and tear down microphones. 

      After eighteen songs, they were done. Oh well—there’s always the next hometown show.