Concert review: Tegan and Sara (with Diana) showcase new sound for a sellout crowd at the Pageant, Sunday, March 10
Female vocals, samples, blips, clicks, beats, love-lorn milieus, melodies and musical formations familiar, yet different — as if filtered through the air waves of a ’70s and early ’80s radio station — played for the ears and eyes of a sold-out crowd at the Pageant for headliners Tegan and Sara.
Helmed by Carmen Elle’s heavenly and wispy vocals, Toronto’s up-and-comping Diana offered the ebbing crowd a taste of chill-wave pop — think Blondie with twisted nobs and a head full of ludes. Consisting of notable players such as Kieran Adams, Joseph Shabason (Destroyer) and Paul Mathew (Hidden Cameras), Diana stood out as a project to keep an eye on.
“Born Again” rumbled and pulsed with a summer feel dappled with melancholy. The “Ba-doo, ba-doo” vocals propelled the song toward its chorus, setting nice contrast to the scoping electronics and synth. The band’s willingness to experiment — mashing genres and aesthetics — was a pleasure to witness.
“Perpetual Surrender” glowed with warm synth, thick ’80s bass and dark backing vocals. The drop and sudden return of the bass and drums transformed the tune from a sleepy confessional into a danced-charged head-bobber. A juicy saxophone erupted halfway through and transported me to a palm laden beach where lovers languished as waves lapped at a distant waxy sun. There was an undeniable “Surrender” to the track: dulcet, sweet and completely liberating.
After Diana and a set break, Tegan and Sara emerged from the darkness as Tommy James & the Shondells’ “I Think We’re Alone Now” played over the house speakers. The cheers and screams subsided and “Back In Your Head” from 2007′s “The Con” spilled forth with muted guitar and syncopated singing.
The song’s keyboard melody enveloped the venue, adding a majesty to the song’s declarative tone. “Walking With a Ghost” reminded the audience of Tegan and Sara’s old sound, featuring slices of razor wire guitar matched with crystalline soprano “Ooos.”
Soon, Tegan and Sara dove into new material from 2013′s slightly controversial “Heartthrob.” “I Was a Fool,” sparkled with a John Hughes-inspired, shoe-gaze, teenage-locker-door-slam-and-walk-down-the-hallway-slow-motion mentality. Think I’m wrong? Take a gander at the album’s cover art (with its air-brushed, photo-collage design). At the age of 30, Tegan and Sara have reinvented themselves with a new sound, making “fools” out of no one.
“I’m Not Your Hero” married Tegan and Sara’s old sound–the duo’s whiplash vocal delivery and tight melodies pulled taught over emotional sentiment–with the modern zeitgeist of poppy synth and hooks. Listening to the tune produced a bit of cognitive dissonance, but the good kind. It felt akin to having one foot in two different decades, as one might straddle states when standing at the United Sates’ famed Four Corners.
“Drove Me Wild” was blazingly upbeat and deliciously accusatory–full of labels for an other that somehow fell romantically short, but still manages to drive the persona “Wild.” Tegan and Sara’s ability to link disparate emotions is impressive; I love the mingling of regret and a memory with the group’s time-tested let’s-keep-moving-on-with-our-lives outlook.
Tegan and Sara detoured from “Heartthrob” with “Arrow” from 2009′s “Sainthood,”–the last record before the group’s recent musical evolution. “The Con” matched the wall-of-sound that many of “Heartthrob’s” tunes feature. I love the song’s characteristic Tegan and Sara break-neck verses; it is interesting to look back and think how easily “The Con” could comfortably exist on “Heartthrob.”
Tegan and Sara powered through more of “Heartthrob” with “Goodbye, Goodbye,” “Love They Say” and “How Come You Don’t Want Me.” “Living Room,” a back-catalog-hit, played acoustically, transported the audience to 2002, showcasing not only a countrified Tegan and Sara but also the group’s wide range.
After “Now I’m All Messed Up,” Tegan and Sara closed with “Closer,” which elicited cheers, singing and dancing from the audience. The crowd echoed song’s bridge “Ooh-oohs,” imbuing it with a warm communal texture. Everyone was happy Tegan and Sara had successfully played the entirety of “Heartthrob.”
The sisters returned for a medley, which offered a head-spinning sampling of the duo’s back catalog. I struggle to list them all, but highlights included, “My Number,” “Monday Monday Monday,” “You Wouldn’t Like Me,” “Superstar,” “Knife Going In,” “Hop A Plane,” “Sentimental Tune,” “On Directing” and “I Know I Know I Know.” The whole thing made me dizzy in the best possible way. Tegan and Sara closed with Tiesto’s “Feel It in My Bones,” which returned the show to a flat out dance party, tangentially reiterating “Heartthrob’s” thesis to wonderful effect.