TEGAN & SARA
Live at The Fillmore, San Francisco, Nov 16 2022
Words & Images by Corgam
First time seeing Tegan and Sara live in concert. I began listening to them during their So Jealous era. They weren’t really like the bands I was a fan of at the time, but I enjoyed their songs, their style fit my taste, but I suppose I didn’t take them too seriously. With their subsequent album The Con I really thought their sound had grown notably, I was surprised by the choices they made in terms of the arrangement and composition side of things, how they developed simple ideas into something memorable, oftentimes with an underlying sadness, a sort of dark spell that suited me gently. I regard Sainthood as their most sophisticated work. Strange, kind of heavy at times, greatly produced. Their accompanying music videos were standalone pieces of art. A frequent listen at the time. And then that was it. I never heard from them again.
My musical diet shifted as theirs took a complete turn. I had no idea they had gone properly “Top of the Charts Pop”, with two albums pursuing that sound: Hearthrob and Love You to Death. I didn't know they collaborated with DJ Tiesto, sang with Taylor Swift, covered Pink and Cindy Lauper, made a Lego song, performed at the Oscars… They basically left my radar since 2009, only to re-enter it a couple months ago. I think perhaps the amazon show High School, based on their 2019 memoir, turned me back around.
Suddenly I am rediscovering the band, filling the gap that spawned over a decade of music and other creations. I’m sure if I had been aware of their musical evolution as it was happening, I would have ditched them altogether, considering the change grotesque, unworthy. But absence worked out its magic, as the re-encounter has been surprisingly pleasing.
An interview from 2019 with Tom Power, the host of Q on CBC Radio One, snowballed into further understanding and appreciation for the band, as musicians, but mainly, as people. The duo talks eloquently about experiences that ultimately brought them to form the band. Having never seen or heard them talk before, I understood their appeal is not just musical -nor physical- it’s their mastery of the spoken word.
In this day and age, I find an experienced band, doing what they want, or perhaps wanting what they do. Song crafters, producers, artists unafraid of exploration, unafraid of pop music, which still to this day is regarded by many as superficial and fake. It’s hard to make that switch and still be taken seriously. That in itself is huge. Not to mention the accomplishments along the way. Their approach to songwriting remains intact. God bless their good taste. They carry themselves throughout time with integrity. Business women, entrepreneurs. I grew up thinking artists had nothing to do with the business side of creativity, but it’s a way to keep success on such unpredictable currents, as those of the music industry. Tegan and Sara swim the tide like legit open water swimmers.
Now, at the dawn of 2022, I see them on their Crybaby tour, off their new album by the same name. A collection of twelve songs still produced under the pop umbrella. It’s quintessential Tegan and Sara, having fun with auto-tune and glitchy motifs; at times they echo Coldplay “All I Wanted” and Cindy Lauper “Sometimes I see Stars”. Most of the time, they sound just like them, as they are now, in the present moment.
I was a bit hesitant to attend -this marks my first concert since 2019- but I was also afraid their show would be more synth-heavy, singing but not really playing instruments, like their approach on the Love You to Death tour (or at least the shows I’ve seen on youtube). But I’m so glad to see them in their multi-instrumentalist traits. “This has been the best show of the tour”. Sara remarked at the end of “Back in Your Head”, “I see so many smiles, it’s beautiful”.
The sisters are alluring and charming, but like they always insist, they’re different. Tegan seems spontaneous, carefree. Sara seems more cerebral, reserved. The combination of those distinctions is perhaps the foundation of their success.
With drummer Adam Christgau and guitarist Isaac Bolivar, Tegan and Sara performed a solid show, a greatest hits repertoire. “Walking with a Ghost” was a highlight for me, it was after all, the song that put them on my radar. Seeing Sara strum those barre chords was emotional, she looked iconic, legendary.
“F*****g Up What Matters” makes me think of their punk-rock influences. Tegan looked so young up there, screaming like a teenager leading her first punk band. I reflected then on her vocal versatility and how young both look at 42.
Looking back at Tegan and Sara's career has inevitably made me look back at myself. Existencialism one on one. The oddity of time, change, evolution. It's a big f*****g trip. Who knows what their trajectory will be like, but given what it's been like so far, it's not impossible to imagine they will continue to change, to explore and to adapt, and perhaps I'll stay tuned this time around.