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Tegan and Sara @ The Pabst Theater

March 7, 2013

Mar. 8, 2013
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CJ Foeckler
When a band opens a concert with two of their biggest hits and fan favorites, they’re usually looking to prime the crowd for newer songs that might not go over as well. And sure enough, Tegan and Sara were looking to get on the crowd’s good side early Thursday night at the Pabst Theater by taking the stage to the one-two punch of “Back In Your Head” and “Walking with a Ghost,” before Tegan Quin, the marginally taller of the two identical sisters, introduced material from their latest album, Heartthrob.

It’s no secret why Tegan and Sara were treading the new material so delicately. Heartthrob has proven to be the sisters’ highest charting album, but also their most divisive, its glossy pop sheen turning off some fans who’d grown accustomed to the group’s rougher edges. In truth it’s not a massive departure for sisters, whose embrace of new wave synthesizers predates radio’s current fascination with them, but audiences can be fickle about any move that whiffs of selling out. As Liz Phair can attest, one clumsy pop grab can overshadow an entire career.

It turns out the sisters needn’t have worried. The sold-out crowd greeted their new material as enthusiastically as the old stuff, and many fans even seemed to prefer the fuller pop pulse of Heartthrob’s uptempo tracks. “Sara, You’re My Rihanna,” read one fan’s sign, which prompted a wry anecdote from the shorter Quin sister about having experienced “funny feelings” the first time she saw Rihanna’s “Umbrella” video. Sara closed her story with a takeaway: Though she likes Rihanna and is flattered by the comparison, she hopes to lead her life as a better example than Rihanna.

The audience went wild over that message, but in some ways it felt at odds with Tegan and Sara’s own songs, which detail the ugly impulses and self-destructive decisions that relationships can drive us to without casting judgment. That songwriting pattern was laid bare during an encore medley of eight or nine of the sisters’ tunes pressed together into a rush of choruses. Through just this hail of unflattering sentiments alone, the sisters copped to insecurity, bitterness, neediness, desperation and deception. You’d think if anybody should understand that love can make people do shitty things, it should be Tegan and Sara.


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