With a new album called Sainthood, West Coast pop-rock duo Tegan and Sara were in a state of grace at the Halifax Metro Centre on Wednesday night, playing to nearly 3,000 fans who sounded like twice that many in their outpouring of adulation for the singing Quin twins.
Taking the stage to the sounds of Leslie Gore’s '60s hit Sunshine, Lollipops and Rainbows, Tegan and Sara played the majority of the new record over the course of the evening, revelling in its songs about the rush of being in love and walking that emotional tightrope between delight and delirium, starting with Sainthood's kick-off track Arrow, an oblique reference to the oldest romantic symbol of them all, Cupid. Then came the flipside of that equation on Don't Rush, with its protagonist ducking an ambush d'amour in hopes of not getting steamrolled by unwanted emotion.
"This next song came about from some miscommunication that led to me running from a car and sitting on a sidewalk in my neighbourhood and crying," said Tegan, introducing Ocean, one of Sainthood's rare gloomier tunes. "I know, sad, right?
"I had to be intervened with, my neighbours were a little shocked, but I think that give me an edge. So this is for all the outdoor criers."
But instead of coming up with an ode to self-pity, the pair sang Ocean as a burst of emotional release, with the words tumbling out in a torrent, like tears filling up the titular body of water, with the sisters' voices creating beautiful pop counterpoint.
Since the show was originally scheduled for the Rebecca Cohn Auditorium before it was moved due to overwhelming ticket demand, Sara decided to make the most of the situation and get the crowd on its feet, citing the advice of TV's Dr. Oz. "He says we all need more physical activity, and I am convinced that Halifax wants to stand up and move around.
"You don't want to get arthritis, I'm sure you're eating a lot of pomegranates, so let's go!"
Dr. Oz proved to be a good intro for the next song Cure, another Sainthood track that bore a certain resemblance to the infectious sound of goth-pop pioneers the Cure. The song's impossibly catchy chorus was matched only by its hook-filled follow-up Hell, which showed off the sisters' chemistry with backing musicians Ted Gowans on guitar, drummer Johnny Andrews and bassist Shaun Huberts.
In case casual listeners were getting a bit lost in the barrage of new material, Tegan and Sara brought them back up to speed with their radio friendly singles Walking With a Ghost — made even more famous when it was covered by the White Stripes -- and Where Does the Good Go, both from their breakout 2004 album So Jealous.
The crowd rewarded them with some raucous feedback, including more than a few cries of "We love you!," which they were quick to acknowledge. "I'm enjoying your energy," said Sara. "It makes me feel like I'm having fun, and every once in a while I see a group of people dancing like you've never danced before. It's awesome, you're dancing like you're from a different time.
"This is our last show of the tour, and I'm enjoying spending it with you, the futuristic dancers. At some point I will be at home, trying to dance like you, so I'll be secretly taking notes."
The songs continued to match the energy, with the punk beat of Sainthood's Northshore and its description of misery as an emotionally crippling addiction, and On Directing, about the early stages of a relationship where two people are feeling out the balance of power between themselves and trying desperately not to screw up.
When the set finally turned to songs from their previous album, 2007's The Con, Sara reassured the crowd, "This is the darkest part of our set, but we will get through it together, and we'll get back to the rock part," before tackling the moody waltz Soil Soil and the brutal imagery of Knife Going In, highlights of that album's chronicle of breakups and broken hearts.
But they made good on their promise, delivering green fury on So Jealous, and sending fans home contented with an acoustic encore of Back In Your Head and Feel It In my Bones that allowed their harmonies to soar with their particular crystalline tang.
Opening act An Horse was an appropriate choice to share the bill, and not just because it was Tegan and Sara who helped the Brisbane, Australia, duo get signed to a label.
With Kate Cooper on guitar and vocals and Damon Cox on drums, An Horse cranked out a mighty sound, with slashing chords, simple but insistent beats and Cooper's intimate confessions.