Words by Helen Knott / Pics by Eleanor Sutcliffe
It can be hard for artists to change musical direction. Perhaps some don’t have the talent or imagination to reinvent themselves… not everyone is Bowie. Maybe others are concerned about alienating a fan base they’ve worked hard for years to develop.
So it was nothing if not a brave move for Tegan and Sara to ditch the earnest indie-rock that had earned them a solidly successful career for over a decade. Teaming up with Greg Kurstin, who last week was named Producer of the Year at the Grammy Awards (not just for his work with Tegan and Sara, but also, more famously, Adele) helped them move into the more mainstream realm of 80s inspired synth pop.
It’s a move that has paid off, helping Tegan and Sara gain critical and commercial success for their last two albums Heartthrob and Love You to Death. Tonight’s show is the penultimate in a month-long European tour in some of the biggest venues they’ve visited to date. Still, it does pose a problem for their live show: how do you create a cohesive performance with incohesive material?
Set opener ‘Back in Your Head’ is a statement of intent on that score. It’s one of their most famous tracks off The Con, which is probably their best pre-pop album. Normally an introspective, though pacey piano-led track, tonight it’s reworked into an electro-pop belter. And it fits seamlessly in with the pop.
Other re-workings have mixed success. ‘Alligator’, one of the set highlights, easily works in the synth pop style – even back on 2009 album Sainthood the sisters knew how to pen a pop classic. On the other hand, ‘Northshore’, also from Sainthood, is an ill-conceived, souped-up mess.
In the main, the set sticks to Tegan and Sara’s two most recent albums. However, it’s said that Taylor Swift was influenced by Heartthrob and songs such as ‘How Come You Don’t Want Me’ are very Swift-esque. When the tracks are good, it’s not unreasonable to mention Tegan and Sara alongside such pop heavyweights; ‘Closer’ and ‘Boyfriend’, tonight’s closing two tracks, are brilliantly witty and catchy as hell.
A three track acoustic segment of songs from The Con celebrates the album’s tenth anniversary. It feels like a small concession to appease older fans, who would probably like to be hearing a little less synth pop. It gives everyone else the chance to catch their breath from the dancing.
If tonight’s audience is anything to go by, the change in direction has helped the twins to reach out to a new generation of young fans. It makes sense that their music now appeals to younger people. Tegan and Sara might be in their mid-30s, but the subject matter of their songs remains stubbornly adolescent, concentrating on subjects like break-ups and that hot new person you fancy, though always with an interesting sideways twist.
It all adds up to a fun, if ultimately unfulfilling evening. I’d like to hear Tegan and Sara’s music reflect the off-kilter world of their lyrics – it all sounds a little too safe. And they may make a good fist of reworking their old songs into their new style, but that does mean that things end up a little samey and one-note.
As the years go by and their career continues the big question will be: can Tegan and Sara reinvent themselves again?
For more on Tegan and Sara, visit www.teganandsara.com
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