The simple act of attending a Tegan and Sara show can generate a lot of guff from judgmental acquaintances; you’d think I was effusively praising the upcoming Spice Girls reunion or—Quelle horreur!—Ani DiFranco. Despite the pitch-perfect emo-pop of their latest, The Con, hating on the Quinn twins seems to be a surprisingly popular pastime. One friend said that he couldn’t hear their name without conjuring a hit from another duo with a very different relationship to lesbianism: T.A.T.U., the Russian popsters responsible for “All the Things She Said.” And you know what? He’s sort of right—listen to the chorus of The Con‘s title track. And there’s nothing wrong with that. Relocate Tegan and Sara to the Continent and they could kick some Eurovision ass.
The line was way down the block for the duo’s Monday-night set at Webster Hall, but everyone had to suffer opening act Northern State before getting to the sweetness. The trio noted that several tracks off their latest album, Can I Keep This Pen?, were produced by Ad-Rock, as if these bratty Beastie Girls needed to remind us who they were ripping off. Their sloppily choreographed hip-hop is simplistic fodder for fans of shitty radio pop who somehow require it encased in a chic Brooklynite veneer. As for me, I’ll take “Sk8er Boi” any day.
The sold-out crowd was clearly waiting for the main attraction and their charmingly asymmetrical haircuts; the diminutive sisters didn’t disappoint. “Dark Come Soon” opened the set, with Tegan evincing a bit of a throaty growl for a minute, part smoker’s growl, part Cobain. (She soon lost it, sadly, as she warmed up.) “So Jealous” came off as the quintessential Tegan and Sara track: Live, the verse recalls a fragile Sinead O’Connor doing “Nothing Compares 2 U” before ripping into the muscular stadium pop-rock the Quinn sisters pull off so well. “Are You Ten Years Ago,” with its quasi-robotic monotone, was a feminine riff on the bleak-but-cheerful synth-pop of the Faint. And the anecdotal banter between songs unfolded in charming—albeit a bit eerie—twinspeak: We learned that the bouncy single “Back in Your Head” was written by Sara in reaction to a school shooting in Montreal (she was happy Tegan was safe, watching Dog the Bounty Hunter in the Mile End). Also, it’s a tad creepy to watch identical twins harmonize on the line “I feel like I wouldn’t like me if I met me.”
The mind-melting moment of the evening, though, came during the band’s encore cover of Rihanna’s “Umbrella,” in which the sisters scraped down to the song’s darker heart with muted guitar arpeggios. Forget distinctions between high and low, mainstream radio and indie cred—pop music can be a beautiful creature, and there isn’t anything guilty about that particular pleasure.