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In the basement bar-schmooze area of the Bowery Ballroom last Wednesday night, a man and a woman sat examining a postcard promoting the latest Tegan and Sara album, So Jealous. “I’m, like, soooo jealous!” the guy mocked in a Valley Girl squeal. The woman rolled her eyes at him. He soooo doesn’t get it. That little syllable isn’t a girlish embellishment; it represents the utter devastation of heartbreak. Anyone can relate to that, even people without ovaries.
Because the Calgary-born Quin sisters have ovaries, and they sometimes strum acoustic guitars, and their lyrics talk about feelings and stuff, the 24-year-olds are often relegated to the Kotex ghetto alongside Ani DiFranco and the Indigo Girls, artists they sound nothing like. If Tegan and Sara’s music recalls anybody, it’s Cheap Trick and the Cars, as this sold-out show confirmed. Their three-piece backing band added rhythmic crunch to “I Won’t Be Left” ‘s tick-tock guitars and the synthesized buzz and swoon of “Speak Slow” and “So Jealous,” while the leading ladies traded powerpop licks. Sara’s shrill ululations contrasted with Tegan’s supple emoting; it was one of the few ways to tell the identical twins apart, since both sported fashion-mullet hairdos, blue jeans, and cutoff black T-shirts (Tegan’s had the word “AMAZING” written on it).
As devoted fans know, the music is just a small part of the T&S live experience. It’s really all about the between-song banter. “We’ve been trying not to talk so much,” Sara said early in the set. “We’re running out of things to say.” The crowd groaned, but the warning proved to be false. In between the usual sisterly teasing, they found plenty to discuss: basketball, children’s books, New York City, their appearance on Conan the night before (Mom called to say it was “OK”). After relating a tale of their grandfather’s adventures in a Mexican strip bar, Sara apologized for all the family chatter. “I don’t know why we’re talking about our grandparents so much. We sound like a Christian band.”
That sense of unguarded intimacy, in both their music and their stage personas, is what makes Tegan and Sara so appealing. They act like they want to tell you their secrets, to share inside jokes with you, to be your friends. And everybody needs friends. Even boys.