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Tegan and Sara – Mandela Hall, Belfast 14/06/10

16 June 2010, 21:55 | Written by Katherine Rodgers

It may seem tediously droll, but I believe you can gauge a crowd’s devotion to the headlining act by the intensity of their photographing. If barely anyone in the crowd has whipped out the ubiquitous glossy-cased iPhone to snap (and subsequently blind) the band, then you can be sure most people in the room have just wandered in off the streets, attracted by the light and the noise and the prospect of cheap booze like some insatiable, gig-going moth. And if, like me, you found yourself next to a man who spent the entire gig feverishly snapping painfully intimate close-ups of Tegan Quin’s face, chronicling every nervous grimace, every goofy smirk, every twitching tendon like some deranged extra from ‘One Hour Photo’, then you know you’re in the vicinity of some rabid super-fans.

But if there ever was a band deserving of fervent adulation, then it is surely Canada’s favourite twins (unproven, but likely) Tegan and Sara – despite shocking geographical unawareness (“Do you guys have winter? Does it, like, snow here?”) they light up the Mandela Hall with the kind of nuclear-powered pop-punk capable of coercing even the sourest of faux-intellectuals into a smile. Heck, even famously pissy moguls Pitchfork described the duo’s latter efforts as ‘hugely likeable’, despite earlier branding them with the nigh on misogynistic ‘tampon rock’ tag that has blighted most of their career.

But no matter, the days when Tegan and Sara were the preserve of sulky, eyeliner-caked teens are long gone – Tegan and Sara have hit upon a golden era of new-found respect and accreditation. They’re an impeccable exercise in persistence and determination, in sticking to your guns and winning people over. Live, Tegan and Sara’s indefinable appeal is even more apparent – they stand on stage, endearingly awkward in jeans and t-shirts. And, although I hate to say it, Pitchfork has hit the nail on the head here – Tegan and Sara are hugely likeable.

Tegan’s odd, stream of consciousness stage banter is utterly charming – in only a few seconds, she manages to switch from mentioning how she’s a little bit tired to “on Canada day I fainted and woke up in hospital hooked up to an IV drip with my top pulled up over my breasts!”, scaling break-up advice (“you go out and get drunk and find someone cuter than the person who broke up with you”) and the origin of air conditioning (“isn’t it true air conditioning was invented here? Oh, you invented it? All of you invented it? Well, you must be the richest people in the world!”).

In contrast, Sara is a little more reserved, barely talking to the crowd – and when she does, she’s less concerned with whipping them up into a titillated frenzy and more concerned with getting them to, well, pipe down a little. “Please stop screaming! My brain is fried!” she protests, futilely, before her words are drowned in a veritable tidal wave of ear-bleedingly loud shrieks.

The obvious divergences in the twin’s personalities are duly reflected in their music – Tegan is far more inclined to rousing bursts of pop-punk, favouring big, overblown choruses over any kind of sob-laden opining – ‘Northshore’ finds Tegan spewing out commands like a deranged army commander, her untidy, sprawling syllables ricocheting around the room like the clatter of gunfire. And ‘Speak Slow’ is more a cheerleader chant than a fully-formed track, the constantly-reiterated mantra of “Speak slow/Tell me love/Where do we go? /ah, ah!” taking on an almost ritualistic feel. As achingly simplistic as some of her songs might be, Tegan is responsible for most of the night’s more euphoric moments – her heart-rending take on ‘Nineteen’, in particular, lent the track a whole new dimension of poignancy.

Sara’s efforts consist of the duo’s more experimental, intimate forays. “Now, Sara’s going to show you a little piece of her heart.” Tegan proffers, by way of introduction. “She’s going to show you her special place.” “I don’t think ‘special’ is really the word…” Sara objects, but she shouldn’t be so modest. The soul-inflected ‘Alligator’ teeters like Passion Pit on a comedown, complete with glittering shards of xylophone, while the woozy ‘So Jealous’ throbs and pulsates like a wild animal locked in captivity, the menacing transition into the song’s “I want the ocean right now!” bridge recalling ‘Paranoid Android’s scattershot volatility.

However, ‘The Con’ is the set’s unquestionable zenith, effortlessly straddling the rhumb line where the incongruous majesties of Ani DiFranco and Arcade Fire blissfully intertwine. It’s perhaps the duo’s only track which combines the strengths of both twins; Tegan’s explosive vocal riffs surfing endless reams of undulating synths, Sara-style. It’s precarious, but it works.

The set wasn’t without it’s minor flaws – their acoustic rendition of ‘Dark Come Soon’ was a little wan without it’s synthy punch on record, and the set did seem to favour obscure album tracks from ‘Sainthood’ over superior older material – the bittersweet ‘Frozen’ would have made a welcome addition – but overall, a triumphant show from a duo who’s trajectory will only keep soaring skywards.

Photo credit: Paul McGlade.

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