I hope everyone had a good Thanksgiving, if applicable. Mine was, as you probably guessed, enjoyably unproductive. Before the hibernation began, I had the great pleasure of finally seeing Tegan and Sara. They played at the Hiro Ballroom in early August, but the show sold out almost immediately, and I missed out. Thankfully, they announced a gig at Webster Hall shortly afterwards, and after three months, the night finally arrived. It was pretty clear from the moment we entered that I wasn't the only one with great anticipation, as the place was already packed. But first, the openers.
Upon hearing Northern State described as a female rap trio, I was pretty wary. The only rap I can seem to appreciate is the sinister, atmospheric variety, a style that seemed far removed from whatever it was this group was offering. I guess one benefit of this bias was that I wasn't terribly disappointed when the trio, who was joined onstage by a drummer and guitarist, more or less fit my expectations. That's not to say the set wasn't at all enjoyable. "Good Distance" is a decent pop song with enough offerings of synth and energy to recall CSS, and a few others had at least as much singing as rapping. I also have to give the girls credit attempting to enliven the crowd, urging us to "take off some layers" and do some cardio to their quasi-dance songs. And yes, Hesta Prynn (of Scarlet Letter allusion) was probably pointing to my camera when she joked, "Photo Op!" in between songs. Overall, I was pleased by the inclusion of the occasion hook, but there are vocalists out there that are simply more appealing to me.
MP3: Northern State - Away Away
MySpace: Northern State
Official Site: Northern State
Tegan and Sara
Tegan and Sara are one of the few groups I really got into through live recordings. Although their albums are quite enjoyable - This Business of Art remains a personal favorite, and I'm impressed with how they've developed a distinct style over the last two releases - the live setting allows their awesome personalities shine through. There is no one out there that charms the crowd better, and the night was no exception. Opener songs "Dark Come Soon" and "Like O, Like H" seemed rawer than on record, and set an intense mood, as red lights saturated the stage. But the banter kept things personable, as Tegan recalled their first gig in New York, which took place in 2000 at the Fez, which is now closed. Playing to a small crowd and hearing the regular rumble of the subway apparently wasn't the only thing they had to deal with, as their tour manager apparently didn't fit the mold of a nurturing, father figure type.
After some more new songs, the sisters delved into their back catalog, playing "Monday Monday Monday" from their 2002 album If It Was You. Aside from fitting well with the day of the week, it was a nice look backwards, and just another reminder of how long they've been around. Sara would expand on that, describing a young girl who recognized her as a "singer that was on MTV." Upon verifying it through a third party, Sara recalled saying that she felt like forty to which the credulous girl replied, "Really?" (They're in their twenties, for the record.) The upbeat "Speak Slow" allowed the backup band of keyboardist Ted Gowans, drummer Johnny Andrews and bassist Shaun Huberts to really rock out, and Huberts would eventually switch to a synth on the dark, breakbeat-driven "Are You Ten Years Ago." This electronic presence, while not dominating the mix, would seem almost unthinkable a few albums ago, but it's nice to see the band branching out.
The bottom part of the set featured their two recent singles. The explosive title track of The Con, one of the most immediate songs off the record, was very gratifying to hear live. Although the sheer amount of instrumentation did overwhelm the vocals a bit, it was one of the highlights. Prior to "Back In Your Head," Sara discussed a school shooting that took place in Montreal, and how relieved she was that Tegan wasn't living in an apartment close by. Although it was a bit of a downer, it reemphasized how close the sisters are, even if they sometimes clash on stage, and how reciprocal their relationship is. Perhaps even more impressive was how they managed to convince the crowd - this is New York, after all - to remain (almost) completely silent during the encore break. In a recent interview with NPR, they described how the encore has become routine, but by having the crowd save all their cheering until the band reappeared, the moment was made special again.
And cheer we did, especially when they played "Walking With A Ghost," and much to my personal satisfaction, their cover of Rihanna's "Umbrella." Another oldie in "Living Room" closed out an immensely entertaining set. The amount of concerts I've gone to has made the whole experience somewhat routine, but this was something else. The great banter, the enthusiastic (and cooperative!) crowd, and finally hearing some of those songs made the night really special. I can't wait until they come back, and knowing their persistence, it won't be too long.
I managed to track down a recording of the aforementioned Fez set, all the way back from October 22nd, 2000. I'm happy to report that their banter was just as great back then, and as you might recall, that year's Subway Series gave them some additional material. I've also included a few tracks that you might not have heard before. Also, look for an interview with Tegan shortly. Enjoy.
MP3: Tegan and Sara - Back In Your Head (Morgan Page Remix)
MP3: Tegan and Sara - Umbrella (Rihanna Cover)
MP3: The Broken West - Back In Your Head (T&S Cover)
3. My Number
5. One Month
6. Not With You
7. Buried Alive
9. Come On
Entire Set: Mediafire
MySpace: Tegan and Sara
Official Site: Tegan and Sara