Elevate Difference

Tegan and Sara (10/9/2008)

Chicago, Illinois

It must be nice to be in a band with your twin sister. Shared skinny jeans, skinny genes, and hipster hair products make costuming a breeze, and a sound-alike bandmate eliminates the technical hassle of overdubbing vocals. Plus, you know the other person so well that you can make fun of them on stage, as Canadian duo Tegan and Sara demonstrated at Chicago’s Riveria Theatre.

“I forgot what a shithole this place is,” my 'plus one', better known as Grace Yip from Grace the Spot, lovingly remarked upon our arrival. The Riv really is the best of all possible places to see a rock show. A crumbling tribute to the uptown neighborhood’s past affluence, seedy recent past, and current gentrification projects, the cavernous building resembles a mix between a subway station, an airplane hangar, and nightmare mix of Phantom of the Opera and that weird pseudo-play in Interview with the Vampire, complete with chandeliers and a not-so-recent green, black, and purple paint job.

Within minutes of taking the stage, the sisters Quin brought up the house lights and asked the youngsters on the floor not to crush so desperately toward the stage because it was making the folks up front nervous. After a few songs, Tegan begins to tell a story about her old apartment, the rotten potatoes that drove her from it, and the song that this experience inspired, but was interrupted by screeching from the audience. Her sister rushed to her defense: “Let me ask you seriously. Did you consume meth or PCP before this show? Did you drink a Monster or Redbull energy drink? Or is it Tegan’s haircut?”

At first I appreciated the banter. Those darn kids are annoying, I thought, glowering from the crotchety seats upstairs. They cheered only at the popular songs and at points seemingly unrelated to what was happening on stage. I enjoy it when silly hipsters get mocked, but so do they - hence the problem of the Tegan and Sara concert.

While cruising the blogosphere for a set list, I found that someone on a similar quest had been chastised by one of her peers who wrote, “No one’s going to be looking at you. They’re all there to see Tegan and Sara.” Right. Looking at them. Not listening to them. It seemed like a scene devoid of any real interest in the music. After reading more comments from this page, it seemed clear from the conversation that the music is a secondary consideration for both fans and haters. Admittedly, I was only there because the tickets were free, but even many of the fans were just there to see and be seen, causing Tegan and Sara to emphasize their scrutiny of audience behavior. 

I finally did find a set list for one of their New York shows and some great, probably illegal pictures that closely resembled the ones I saw on Brooklyn Vegan. Most of the songs played early on were from The Con while the older, more well-known songs were played later in the evening. “Burn Your Life Down” really resonated with me that night, but I felt like no one else was digging it. The audience cheered wildly for “Walking with a Ghost,” as well as Rhianna’s “Umbrella,” and by the end of the encore, “Back in Your Head,” most of the audience was on its feet and singing along.

I know that many bands have trouble getting concert-goers to be as excited about their new work as they are about well-worn favorites, but this audience was more excited about the performers than any of the music they produced. They cheered more loudly for the explanation of “Love-type Thing” (the duo’s only love song because "they have difficulty writing about happy things") than for any of the songs themselves. Granted, Tegan and Sara are awesome people. They schooled the audience on the difference between Sarah’s haircut and a mullet, and exhorted us to vote the direction of that haircut (she parts to the left). And I'll admit that I was caught up in it too, almost forgetting to write about how the silly girl behind me who thought it would be “like, so awesome” to be invited along on the tour bus. But at one point, even Tegan asked, “Can we put the house lights down and be a rock show instead of a comedy team?”

I liked Tegan and Sara's music; it was pleasant, driving, and catchy. This rendering of their tunes was even well-executed. But it was hard to enjoy the show while being distracted by the constant interruptions, and I was not overly impressed by the performance. What did impress me, though, was one of the opening bands.

I missed much of Girl in a Coma because I was at Fiesta Mexicana grabbing a taco. When I walked up to the third floor and heard only guitars, I assumed some Godsmack-wannabe band was playing in the wrong club. Ow, I thought, LOUD. But then I heard that voice.

Seventeen-year-old Nina Diaz blew me away. A powerhouse mix that I compared that night to both Joss Stone and Kim Deal, her voice is described by the band as “at turns mesmerizing, hypnotic, playful, thunderous, and soft, and has been compared to artists as diverse as Bjork, Patsy Cline, and Morrissey.” Diaz’s vocals float over the noisy, feedback-laden instrumentals of this three woman band, which lists The Smiths, the Yeah Yeah Yeahs, and the Pixies among their influences. Tegan and Sara put on a solid, fan pleasing show, but Girl in a Coma is really the band to watch out for.

Written by: H. V. Cramond, October 16th 2008