Emerged from the Austin trenches, the battle-worn Tegan and Sara relaxed their SXSW-weary bones at Warehouse Live to a grateful Houston crowd.
After a reverberating boom of shouts and cheers hit the duo when they came on stage, the singers sparked up the crowd with a blithe performance of fan favorites “Back in Your Head” and “Walking with a Ghost.” With the help of blinking blinder lights and stylish video projections, Tegan and Sara segued into songs off their latest album, Heartthrob, performing “I Was A Fool” and “I’m Not Your Hero” with chilly, cool-kid indifference. “I Couldn’t Be Your Friend” showcased what seemed would be the attitude of the night: if our hearts break when we get around Tegan and Sara…well, that’s our problem, isn’t it?
But the affected heartthrob ethos is a cheerfully ironic choice for the funny, warm, and achingly sincere sisters. About the only things that fit the teen dream aesthetic in Tegan and Sara are their heartsick lyrics and edgy haircuts. The disaffected moments in the show didn’t say something about the singers, they said something about us. As audiences opt to watch concerts filtered through the video screen of a Samsung Galaxy phone or the hashtags in a Twitter feed, what choice do artists have but to emulate/mock the aloofness with which their audience loves them? And isn’t that aloofness the mark of a band that’s truly loved — loved so much that they don’t even have to care?
But this is all somewhat beside the point, because Tegan and Sara do care, and the Heartthrob iciness melted as they drifted backwards into their repertoire. The group’s trademark harmonies peeked through on “Where Does the Good Go?” and “Burn Your Life Down,” and the audience clapped, stamped, and wailed its way through the mournful “Call it Off” and “Nineteen.” Even though most of the attendees measured in at below 5’4”, when they sang out “call me” it was pretty damn loud.
One wonders if the hyperactive indie crush that is SXSW wears down even the sweetest of performers. Indeed, Tegan herself referred to the lauded annual event as a “war zone,” and both singers reiterated their gratitude for the Houston crowd. This mutual admiration brought warmth into their newer songs: The pulsing purple lights and pop synth beats on “Drove Me Wild” were fun, rather than affected, and the call-and-response of “Now I’m All Messed Up” added yet another anthem on the ambivalence of love to the Tegan and Sara catalog. The closing song of (you guessed it) “Closer” elicited truly deafening screams, so much so that it was hard to imagine where the show could go from there.
Yet perhaps the highlight of the evening was Tegan and Sara’s thoughtful and creative encore. Tegan gave a brief monologue on how lucky they were to be on stage that day after spending half their lives as musicians, enduring the struggles of barely making a living, and facing the inevitable challenges that come with being in a band with a sibling. As an olive branch to disappointed fans who may have not heard their favorite songs that evening, Tegan and Sara sang a medley of some of their older tracks with only the help of two microphones, an acoustic guitar, and the flying bird silhouettes projected onto the background.
Even though Tegan and Sara might be the “sonic juggernauts” that OutSmart Magazine recently proclaimed them to be, the encore proved that deep inside they remain two enormously talented women who just want to sing some songs. And even though albums like Heartthrob may capitalize on 21st-century indifference, we hope the real heart behind it all keeps beating.