Tegan and Sara, Hesta Prynn
Mike Hughes 24/06/2010
Tegan and Sara are not a casual band and don't have casual fans. Even at the back, near the bars and the recycling bins, the usual habitat of drunken chatterers, people were staring with intent. Even here they were dancing up and down just enough so you know it's about the band, and mouthing along the words, the enchanted faithful.
Let's get us there though. There was a time when I would have felt a tiny bit intimidated going to a Tegan and Sara gig, when I first heard the 'So Jealous' album. Even though they were well into their twenties, they sounded like and spoke to teenagers. Literate ones for sure, these were never Girls Aloud, but even so, as a... let's just call me a bloke of a certain age... I felt somehow that I would have been a fish out of water. It persisted through 'The Con', almost a guilty pleasure, and then last year's 'Sainthood' album shifted the ground for me. They haven't given anything away in the process of growing up, but they certainly seem to have widened their fanbase, even if they remain a band that you've either never heard of or have cultishly strong opinions about.
A word about the support. Hesta Prynn was otherwise in Northern State but tonight is out on her own with a new touring band. I don't know how well cemented they are as a band. Hesta introduced one of them with that delightful American naivety as being from "New Zealand. That's where Queensland is? No? ..He knows Flight of The Conchords!". Hesta might have been out on her own but she sure ripped it up rock star stylee, exuding buckets of sheer stage presence. This earned her dance-rock a loud and cheering welcome. She was exactly right, flamboyant and exciting whilst reverential of what was to come. Admittedly, she'd have to rip their hearts out to get between this crowd and the Quin sisters they were here to see. Touchingly, she was still at the stage of saying she'd be on the merch stand at half time. I'll check her out some more though, I liked what I heard.
As we waited, in those essential front few rows was evidence of devotion in the form of accents from afar, hand written signs and tales of having travelled from Spain and further to get here. There were cheers when the warm up music mix played Johnny Cash's 'Walk The Line", then that usual sweet moment of anticipation as the lights went down and the sisters came on stage, Tegan in lumberjack shirt and pork pie hat, Sara dressed more sleekly.
On record they are measured, maybe even a little child like in sound. At least they used to be, the new one has seen a shift towards the rockier and electronic end of things. On stage this went much further. What really hit me was that, like the Smiths years ago, they were a bloody good live rock and roll band. Well, rock and roll with the odd touch of dance and rockabilly, but you get my drift.
The Roundhouse in Camden is a grand space, ideal for "theatre darling" and can be a big space if you ain't got the presence. Tegan and Sara even reflected on where they've come though to get here, the Barfly, Bush Hall, tiny by comparison. They're here now though, and have the necessary in spades, enough to make sure the magic went all the way to the back of the house.
They opened with 'Back In Your Head', as well they might given that it's one of the most hook laden things they've written. It has ideas as well as chords, that repeated line "I'm not unfaithful but I'll stray". They then promised that they'd do stuff from the newest record before working back a little. Sainthood is from 2009 but still new enough that they are about to release 'Alligator' as a 12".
Despite the big auditorium, the intimacy carried through nicely. In 'Sentimental Tune' that affecting Canuck accent as Sara sang "I'm ready for a fight" was making me nostalgic for a country I've only ever visited.
I'd kind of wondered about sexual politics as this seems associated with the Quin sisters. I'd deliberately dismissed it from my mind, than around about this point Sara was musing from the stage. She said she hadn't really understood what the Roundhouse was, but now she'd seen it, it kind of reminded her of a film. That one with Tom Hanks, the Da Vinci code, with some teasing or self deprecation about whether it was cool to like the film. The monologue continued that Sara always imagines herself as a male protagonist, that even if it was a female lead she imagines herself as trans. "Even if you're a woman I'm gonna turn you into a dude". Which is quite a mental exercise to be looking in on. And then Sara said she couldn't hear us, which caused Tegan to interject and ask us to make some noise because Sara "needs a lot of positive feedback". Sisters, twins, fascinating to this particular only child.
Around about here we moved back from the current album into songs from 2004 album 'So Jealous', marked by a bit more jangly guitars, a bit less post rock.
Tegan now started a little monologue of her own. It was about how she'd spent $900 going to see a girl and then when she got there was too embarrassed and frigid (her words) to make out. She told us how that was mirrored by the story of a guy that had worked up the courage after many years to go and see a woman he had loved from afar. Again it fizzled, he missed his chance and she married another. Tegan cheered us up by telling that in her case, she had eventually got her girl. It's a sweet story and inspired the next song 'Hop A Plane'.
Another pause while Sara offered to auction their friend Jeremy off for sex. The poor lad was pulled from the wings to be spotlighted on stage and was squirmingly embarrassed, Sara saying if there was any auctioning for sex it had to start with her. Again that sisters thing, Sara claiming that if she was trying to be funny, then it was only ever to try and make Tegan laugh.
She then introduced 'Like O Like H", saying it reminded her of being a teenager. That might be, but it had a rumbling character all of its own tonight, almost bizarre given the pretty nature of the song. Actually when you listen it's quite a brooding idea under the nursery chant, as is 'Grounds For Divorce' when the girls give it the context of their own upbringing, although apparently all 6 resulting parents (?) now get along just fine. This was turning into "an evening with...." as much as a gig, and as we headed past 'The Con' and towards the interval, we all got thanked for buying merch, and tickets, and records, and for downloading them for free off the internet. I don't think they were being ironic. The encore was never in doubt, they were only off for a few moments. Sara had some brief guitar problems, leading Tegan to amuse the troops with her English accent. Considering my Canadian take-off consists of saying fuckeneh, who am I to complain. Problems fixed, they headed back into the music with just the two of them. I might be wrong here, but I used to be convinced that on some earlier songs they did a peculiar twins thing of not harmonising, instead both singing the same note. I could hear bits of that, not so much though, and it added to my theory that although they are just as essential and relevant as ever, they have somehow become less singular, less apart from the crowd and more conventional in how they get the music out.
It had felt like a big gig all night. Now there were flags being thrown on stage and it came close to a festival feel. Maybe that thought was put there by Sara earlier alluding to the fact that they would be at Glastonbury over the weekend and they were genuinely relieved that there was anyone left to come to tonight's gig. As if!
Random overheard comment on the subway out of Camden "It's the two brains, that's what makes the electric!" I wouldn't disagree in the slightest
Tegan and Sara played
Back In Your Head
You Wouldn't Like Me
I Bet It Stung
Hop A Plane
Walking With A Ghost
Like O Like H
Dark Come Soon
Feel It In My Bones
Call It Off
Lots more photos at http://www.flickr.com/photos/catshoe/sets/72157624366734584