The only people having more fun than the Pageant's audience last night were Tegan and Sara Quin. The twin sisters blasted through a fantastic 25-song set which touched on their entire career, thrilling the packed venue.
Teenybopper-level screams erupted as the ladies and their backing band took the stage just after 9:30 p.m. and launched into a trio of songs from their latest, Sainthood: "The Ocean," "On Directing" and "The Cure." The triptych embodies Tegan and Sara's musical direction -- moody, new-wave influenced pop-rock - but its introspection felt buoyant instead of melancholy. That wasn't the case elsewhere: Dizzying, multi-colored lights flashed during "So Jealous," reinforcing the song's emotionally violent undertones - and creating a satisfying, ominous atmosphere. The newer "Night Watch," which found the sisters manning keyboards instead of guitars, felt like walking through a dark haunted house, lit only by flashlights.
These sonic (and emotional) dynamics kept the show interesting. They also demonstrated just how ferocious of a live act Tegan and Sara has become -- even in the two years since its last St. Louis appearance. A sped-up "Speak Slow" turned into a ripping punk tune, the So Jealous favorite "You Wouldn't Like Me" had backbone and bite, and set-closer "Hell" was even rawer and jagged than it is in the studio. Tegan and Sara don't receive much credit for their guitar skills, but their quicksilver strumming on these songs and elsewhere always kept things brisk and corrugated.
Its backing band, while mostly staying in the background, further helped flesh out and toughen up its tunes. Yet Tegan and Sara's less-complex earlier work blended seamlessly with newer tunes. They slowed down "Monday Monday Monday" with more keyboards and dramatic ambient space, and the Con hit "Back In Your Head" was stripped down to elementary-school percussion and acoustic guitar. "Divided" - introduced as "the first song from our first record" by Tegan - was a breathy, Beth Orton-like coffeehouse jam. The song's simplicity was charming, but when compared to the rest of the set it felt like an antique relic - a token of thanks for die-hards, not an attempt to encourage newer fans to check out their back catalog.
Of course, Tegan and Sara's famous storytelling abilities were on display. Sara talked about going to the City Museum earlier in the day, and how afraid she was for the kids there - and how she felt like she was in Europe and not St. Louis, since there were "no rules" there. Tegan talked about being sore from bowling on their off night - in fact, bowling was a recurring meme throughout the night -- and later, told a long, involved story about recently being given some embarrassing childhood movies. (To paraphrase: She was always the loud one being obnoxious and Sara was in the background. Oh, and they also had the same haircuts then as they do now.)
Still, Tegan's long list of thanks near the end of the night - everybody from opening acts Steel Train and Holly Miranda to the audience and St. Louis itself received kudos -- felt heartfelt and genuine. The band's success is a long time coming, and last night's entertaining, moving concert showed exactly why Tegan and Sara have become indie darlings with decided mainstream appeal.
Holly Miranda's brief, solid opening set left many in the audience wanting more. The ex-Jealous Girlfriends singer studied at the Cat Power school of smoky, sleepy-eyed folk, but matches this influence with snarled rock sensibilities and slinky soul roars.
Backed by a trio of musicians (many of whom looked barely out of high school), Miranda switched off between keyboards and guitar, adding depth and heft to songs from her debut, The Magician's Private Library. That album was produced by TV on the Radio's Dave Sitek and contains a duet between Miranda and TvoTR's Kyp Malone. It's safe to say that her live interpretations of Library's songs compare to the bone-searing catharsis found during a TVoTR show.
A cover of Yoko Ono's "Nobody Sees Me Like You Do" showcased Miranda's primitive, stretching-cat yowl. Fellow openers Steel Train hopped onstage to add a cappella back-up harmonies on the set's final number - a song which bubbled up into thundering, shuddering bursts of noise before subsiding again into hypnotic vocal circles.
Tegan and Sara setlist: "The Ocean" "On Directing" "The Cure" "You Wouldn't Like Me" "I Bet It Stung" "The Con" "Nineteen" "Northshore" "Night Watch" "Red Belt" "Soil, Soil" "Monday, Monday, Monday" "Where Does the Good Go" "Speak Slow" "Walking With a Ghost" "So Jealous" "Hop a Plane" "Alligator" "Sentimental Tune" "Hell"
Encore: "Back In Your Head" "Dark Come Soon" "Divided" "Call It Off" "Living Room"
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