Tegan and Sara w/Lucius and The Courtneys at Marathon Music Works, 5/12/14



When we rolled into Marathon Music Works Monday night, we noticed that the demographics of the crowd were drastically more diverse (though still super-white) than our last Tegan and Sara show way back in 2004. Men, young and old, have apparently caught T&S fever, and though there were still plenty of queer women (and men) to be seen, it was clear that the band has achieved what can only be described as mainstream success.

We arrived promptly at 8, the advertised showtime, to the strains of The Courtneys' riot grrl-inspired rock set. Unfortunately, by the time we sorted out our tickets and entered the show 10 minutes later, they were already packing up. As our photographer pointed out, it was one of the few shows in the history of The Spin to start early. We enjoyed what we heard though, and their youthful simplicity reminded us of Southern Girls Rock and Roll Camp showcases of yore.

Though we aren’t a fan of their slick, adult-contemporary sounding record, we had heard such positive things about Lucius’ live performance that we intended to give them a shot — but as the two frontwomen took the stage in matching outfits and blonde bobs, we cringed a little. The anthemic songs kept on coming, complete with constant dual vocals, hand-clapping, group chants and excessive drum banging (at many points, every band member was hitting a drum), we couldn’t help but be turned off by the band’s attempt to fit every current musical trend into their own shtick. But the crowd loved it, and they were talented performers. We get it.

Ten years ago when we saw Tegan and Sara (driving a few hours in order to catch them two nights in a row), things were drastically different. Widespread marriage equality was a pipe dream and “selling out” was still a thing. Since then, the duo has toured relentlessly, playing to mid-size crowds of adoring and appreciative fans. They became the biggest openly gay act in North America, but transcending that label was increasingly difficult.

When a video of the twins joining Taylor Swift onstage went viral last year, it was clear that Tegan and Sara were ready for their time in the spotlight. Their new record, Heartthrob, is pop to the core. The self-conscious, borderline-emo affectations of their past efforts were ditched for simplified, relationship-inspired lyrics (a la Swift) and their signature acoustic guitars traded for synthesizers. We wondered how this would translate live and, more importantly, if our beloved Canadians would come across as (gasp!) “sell-outs.” The short answer? They didn’t.

Taking the stage to massive applause, the twins (and band) fought poor sound on their first couple tunes, both of which were from their breakthrough (and probably best) album, The Con. At first, it seemed Lucius’ rousing, pitch-perfect vocals were too much for the twins to match, but as they launched into "Walking With a Ghost," the sound straightened out and they hit their stride to the delight of the audience.

Before playing the oldest song on set list ("Monday, Monday, Monday"), Tegan joked that she and her sister had been “touring since the 1920s.” It occurred to us that it probably felt that way. They revamped this oldie with synths and a disco inflection, which made for an easy transition into the heart of the set, a string of dance-pop tunes from Heartthrob. For some reason, there is a difference between manufactured pop artists like Katy Perry (T&S’s tour mate later this year) playing sparkling, mindless pop music and established artists like Tegan and Sara (or Arcade Fire, for that matter) attempting to do the same. It doesn’t necessarily come naturally to them, and there seemed to be moments when they didn’t know what to do with their hands or how to convincingly dance onstage. But as the show went on, this version of Tegan and Sara became as convincing, if not more, than any other version we'd seen. As they powered through pop gems like "Goodbye, Goodbye" and "Now I’m All Messed Up," they began to visibly lighten up and have as much fun as their rapt audience.

By the time they played "Closer," the new album's lead single and Taylor Swift’s favorite song, our worries about the changing music business and “selling out” had been dispelled by the sheer charisma and positive energy of Tegan and Sara Quin. The show’s highlight, though, was an acoustic sing-along of The Con’s "Nineteen," an anthem of teen love and anguish that everyone in the audience, especially, as Tegan pointed out, those “with the word teen still in their age,” could understand. One of the many powers of pop music is to bring all ages and types of people together to sing along and dance. If this is Tegan and Sara’s pop experiment, they certainly have succeeded.

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