Tegan and Sara Make Heartbreak Fun

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Leave it to me to get over-emotional at a concert, but there was something about the show that Tegan and Sara put on at KOKO last month that made me feel an absurd amount of things. I’ve been a longtime fan of the twins’ music, so getting the chance to see them live (in London, no less) was well worth the trip to Camden Town on a Thursday evening. This show was on the night of the EU Referendum, a fact that the sisters did not ignore: near the beginning of the set, they spoke passionately about the recent political stress in the UK. They also dedicated an acoustic version of "I'm Not Your Hero" to MP Jo Cox, who had been shot and killed in West Yorkshire on June 16th. The performance was an eloquent way to express their feelings on the event, and elicited a supportive response from the crowd.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dSGbOmW4AjI

I wasn’t sure what to expect from the set – after their last two albums saw the sisters make the transition from angst-fueled indie to spotless 80’s-inspired pop, a crowd-pleaser honestly didn’t seem likely. Though critics raved about their polished sound, some fans were less than enthused when the duo traded guitars for synths. I was curious to see how that would translate to their performances of older tracks, if they sang them at all.

Though they did play every single from Love You To Death, Tegan and Sara definitely lingered on their previous hits. “Stop Desire” and “U Turn” were well-received moments from the former category, but nothing prompted the crowd at KOKO to sing along quite like past favorites “Nineteen” and “Call It Off”.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Va9uOHGZskg

Even with the focus on their previous albums, the duo experimented with sound in a way that allowed them to fluidly transition between their musical phases. At no point was this more significant (or interesting) than during the layering of synths and drum kicks during “Living Room”, a track once characterized by its prominent banjo line.

Instead of an arbitrary tour promoting their (admittedly excellent) new album, the concert felt like collaboration between the band and their fans. Regardless of the instrumentation, the sisters’ true talent lies in writing honest, vulnerable tracks about the intricacies of modern love, often heartbreak. The catharsis of listening to a Tegan and Sara track doesn’t come from a particularly exquisite banjo riff, but instead feeling the emotional weight of the lyrics, as exemplified in a Camden club last month.

My personal highlight in this regard was “Drove Me Wild” – one of the happier songs in the set for sure, and a favorite of mine since it’s release. No matter how they had performed it, it would have been just as exhilarating of an experience. And of course, closing with 2013 mega-hit “Closer” had the entire crowd feeling exactly like the lovesick teenagers we were when it came out (and in some ways, still are).

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nfNwfgABrX4

It's these emotions that make Tegan and Sara so cool and timeless: above all else, their music encourages listeners to feel deeply and freely, regardless of the sonic form that it takes.

Image taken/edited by Laur Hudson.