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Tegan and Sara @ The Pabst Theater

Oct. 20, 2016

Oct. 21, 2016
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Photo credit: Kelsea McCulloch
Tegan and Sara are nothing if not considerate of their fans. When the duo made the leap from indie-pop to full-blown pop on their 2013 album Heartthrob, they were careful to avoid alienating longtime supporters on the tours that followed, which played like more-or-less regular Tegan and Sara shows despite the more synthy lean of the new material thrown in. Three years later, though, they’re no longer playing it as safe. On the heels of their most electronic album yet, Love You To Death (yes, they’re still writing about codependence), the Quin sisters have completely overhauled their set. Abandoning all pretenses of being a rock band, they each stationed themselves behind a keyboard for Thursday night’s show at the Pabst Theater, backed by a drummer and yet another pair of keyboardists, all in matching white, on a glowing platform that could have been borrowed from Erasure’s warehouse.

It was a light-heavy, highly choreographed affair, the full makeover they’ve been building up to for a while now. Even songs from further back in their songbook like “Back in Your Head” and “Alligator” were processed and digitalized, essentially distilled into remixes of themselves. Despite the flashy, high-concept staging, though, the concert still allowed ample breaks for the comic stage banter that some fans seem to enjoy as much as the music. Sara went on a long political rant, encouraging the crowd to vote against Donald Trump regardless of their thoughts on Hillary Clinton, while Tegan mostly took a lighter approach, talking about Wayne’s World and recalling being terrified of doing laundry in the Rave’s basement on an early tour (“I wasn’t afraid of ghosts; I was afraid of being kidnapped and murdered.”)

When Tegan and Sara released Heartthrob, they didn’t hide the fact that they were trying to reach a wider audience. It’s unclear, though, how well that’s working out for them. That album sold well and yielded “Closer,” a hit that’s regularly played at baseball stadiums, yet their audience doesn’t seem to have actually grown any. At this stop they played a full but not sold-out Pabst Theater, whereas on past swings through the city they’ve either sold out or played the larger Riverside Theater. They seem to have positioned themselves in an odd middle ground, too big to be a cult act yet still too niche to be pop stars.

That’s the thing about being an established act in your 30s: You can’t completely reinvent yourself, at least not without turning your back on old-guard fans, something Tegan and Sara have been careful not to do. In a bit of service for those old fans, around the show’s 50-minute mark the sisters gave their backing band a break so they could perform several stripped-down numbers from their 2007 high watermark The Con—just two singers and, for the first time all night, a guitar. As good as the strobe-lit spectacle that surrounded it was, that bare-bones mini set was the best part of the show.

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