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Concert Review: Tegan and Sara

Concert Review: Tegan and Sara

Even if you’re not a die-hard fan of the sisters, the two are magnetic enough that any worries about it being a fans-only experience can be safely put to bed.

Aladdin Theater, Portland, OR
10/03/2019

Three months ago, Amanda Palmer played a sprawling, arresting and entirely unique performance at the Crystal Ballroom. Over the course of a whopping four-and-a-half hours, she stood alone on stage, armed solely with a piano, and got deep into her own history and psyche. At worst, it was overly long and self-indulgent, but at best it was a profound and engaging experience to watch a notoriously heart-on-sleeve performer somehow doing more to expose her deepest, darkest feelings to the audience.

Tegan and Sara’s tour behind Hey, I’m Just Like You is, on a superficial level, like Palmer’s recent performance in that the mechanisms that drive each are the same: mostly talking; lots of differently-built versions of songs; loads of laughs and stirred-up feelings along the way. But aside from the obvious difference—Palmer was alone onstage, while Tegan and Sara have each other, armed with guitars and pianos—the tone and construction of the whole show felt totally different. Their twinhood showed on the stage: matching chairs, matching amps on top of matching mirror boxes. There was a shelf of color-coded (Tegan in purple, Sara in green) reprints of sections of their memoir, High School (which was graciously given to everybody on entry), the common thread for Hey, I’m Just Like You and this tour. Outside of the above—and a mirrored keyboard stand, plus a white backdrop used to project home movie footage from their youth and a soothing array of colors—the stage was wonderfully modest, and it was easy to get lost in how beautifully this all tied together with the stage at Portland’s Aladdin Theater. The lighting technician was also an MVP, using the spotlights on each performer to perfectly draw attention wherever they needed the audience to focus.

One of the best parts of seeing the duo is their unbeatable chemistry (twin chemistry is difficult to manufacture), and anyone who’s seen them perform and found themselves wishing the duo somehow had the freedom to take their time between songs will be delighted by the fact that giving them that space makes all the difference. The sisters took turns reading sections of High School, sometimes with the other on stage, sometimes ping-ponging back and forth. Other times, they’d drop the book altogether and recount stories directly, which were the best parts of the show. High School is definitely written in their voice, but they were at their best when they took off that limiter and simply told longwinded stories about teen rebellion, internalized homophobia and the struggles of learning to accept themselves, especially within the context of their patient beginnings as musicians and songwriters. They also fucked up songs with reckless abandon; at one point, they recounted a story about a friend seeing them do this at a different show and being surprised that they messed up songs so often, to which a different friend replied, “No, that’s kind of their thing!”

Credit also goes to the pair of sign language interpreters who alternated throughout the set, not just translating the duo’s words but actually putting their full bodies into the music, moving along with the grooves of each song. I’ve seen ASL translators before, but none as engaging and expressive as these two.

When the twins weren’t talking, of course, they played songs. This is billed as an acoustic tour, but they did bring out their electric guitars for some moments, though with very little added fluff. They’d take turns playing guitar, singing, playing piano, sometimes together and sometimes alone. Unsurprisingly the setlist was largely focused on Hey, I’m Just Like You, an album partially made up of re-recorded songs the two wrote as clumsy teens. It was fascinating to watch how they arranged these songs within the set, giving a musical supplement for their teen angst. Other moments were paired with more recent songs, like Under Feet Like Ours’ “Divided,” The Con’s “Call it Off” and Heartthrob’s “I Was a Fool,” the latter sounding remarkably different stripped from its pop-focused sound. They closed on their beloved So Jealous hit “Where Does the Good Go?”, leading the crowd in a singalong of the final chorus.

When I saw that Palmer show, it felt like seeing a strange vanity move, but after seeing Tegan and Sara pull off a more accessible (and far more fun) version of the “one-woman show” only made me wish more artists would give us that same treatment. Even if you’re not a die-hard fan of the sisters, the two are magnetic enough that any worries about it being a fans-only experience can be safely put to bed.

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