Date: October 20, 2005
Author: EVAN WINCHESTER
Publication: The Daily Californian Online
Headline: Tegan and Sara Concert Uptight and Unrehearsed Canadian Twin Sisters Experience Broken Guitars and Other Interruptions On Stage
Tegan's guitar string broke immediately, and that's how Sara knew it would be a good show. The band hadn't even played a song yet. They'd just walked onstage in the Pauley Ballroom of the MLK, Jr. Student Union. Rows of chairs crowded the back of the room, reminiscent of a high school dance.
But this is Tegan and Sara we're talking about, the band with those indie folk-rockin' Canadian twin Quin sisters, not some burned-out, bottom-dollar deejay. Soon as Tegan picked out an intact acoustic, Sara joined her on electric to open with off-the-bat grooving, melodic "I Bet It Stung." The song's message, "don't get so uptight," seemed to click with their personalities.
But it didn't click with the rest of the band. When the other musicians weren't playing their instruments, they occupied themselves by wearing black and not dancing.
Tegan flashed a sheepish smile when the crowd delighted at the simple ascending notes and comfortable repetition of "I Know I Know I Know." Where did all these fans come from? Seems like every day there's more of 'em, ever since that Garage Warz competition in '98.
With nothing left to do but flaunt her burgeoning vocal confidence, on "Speak Slow" Tegan shot tart little "ah ahs!" against a backdrop of solid percussion. Sara provided backup that was pleasant, if unremarkable, showing that Tegan was the more creative, adventurous singer-not that it's a competition.
Sara's got some skills of her own. She may be too shy to dance onstage-says she's afraid everybody's going to pass judgment on her half-dance, half-shuffle-but she's happy to talk about it. The band may even be more famous for concert storytelling than musical talent.
Casual banter was rampant, despite somber songs like "Downtown," when the globe lanterns, hanging red like frozen bubbles, were set to dim. Someone sparked a lighter and swayed it during the slow, strumming build of the song, then snuffed it to pump a fist while the keys and drums crashed to climax.
While several songs were decent, few aspired to be anything more than that. Many songs, especially those from the heavily played album So Jealous, sounded the same. But just because the songs were simple didn't mean they couldn't be messed up.
The band played "So Jealous," but aborted several times in the middle. Apparently, it was Sara's fault because "Apparently, I'm on crack." Despite the difficulties-"It's like a rehearsal! Like you're watching us in action!"-the live song far outshined the studio version. Now I get why it's the title track for their 2004 album.
The song oscillated between fading keys and the hard, regular pulse of simultaneous drums and guitar. But when the keyboard shrilled to match the pitch and fervor of Tegan's voice for the line "I've been so jealous," it was like the sudden splice and crack of two bullwhip strands. The moment tapped an intensity that the album lacks.
On "Living Room," the folk-rock sound came through loud and clear, with ample plucking and Tegan swinging from guttural to crooning and back again. The change of pace was more than welcome. People in the crowd jumped like they'd smuggled a teeter-totter.
Throughout the night, Tegan and Sara played catchy, characteristically simple songs like "Walking With A Ghost." Sometimes the formula worked, with Tegan's electric guitar riff playing off Sara's acoustic strumming, Tegan singing lead and Sara backing.
But monotony could also be a problem. There was an excitement threshold that Tegan and Sara rarely reached. They've got a knack for charm, sure, and for storytelling. But their music would benefit if they'd step outside their comfortable, sometimes boring niche-if they'd do the musical equivalent of wearing a zookeeper jumpsuit, something Sara couldn't bring herself to do.
In other words, Tegan and Sara, play what you preach. Don't get uptight, because you're at your best when you cut loose.
Wake up exhausted with Evan at firstname.lastname@example.org.