Saw Tegan and Sara performing at Humphrey's Concerts by the Bay in San Diego last week.
I think that may have been the first time in my life I'd ever felt old. To clarify, I've certainly felt physically past my peak and maybe even a tad feeble on many occasions lately, but never before had I ever truly felt socially old until I felt myself sticking out amid the crowd at this show. (And I've been to Chuck E. Cheese as an unmarried, childless adult.) Mind you, I'm not yet 30. But, damn, everybody else just seemed so young, hip, spirited. Maybe they weren't all actually that much younger than me, and maybe age is just a state of mind. But, though the precise moment may vary from individual to individual, I am convinced that everybody who lives long enough does become old someday, and it's not up to them at what point that happens. When you get there, the world will let you know. And while it may be tempting to try to argue your case and live out "proof" that you are still young at heart, truly there can be no dignified protest, once you've aged out of the young people's circle. Any attempt to act younger than your age will only come across as pathetic. A whimsical teenager is romantic. A whimsical middle-aged man who hasn't got his act together is pitiful.
At any rate, although I'm thinking perhaps this was the last "young person's concert" I might ever attend, I did get over my feelings of oldness quickly enough to just enjoy the show. Tegan and Sara put on a good one.
Opening for them was Canadian band Stars. They commented on how, during this week between Coachella weekends, bigger acts (like Tegan and Sara) could divvy up the various Southern California venues for additional shows while in the area. For smaller bands playing at Coachella (like Stars), it mostly depended on which larger band asked them to come along. As an opening act, Stars is a pretty good choice. I enjoy a number of songs off their latest album, The North, and though they may not have the greatest stage presence or be the most photogenic, they are charmingly Canadian. Frequently during their performance, they would smile and wave out to the crowd, at times seeming to actually be waving directly to me (but that was probably just my imagination).
Then Tegan and Sara took the stage and did not disappoint. They brought more of that uniquely Canadian sweetness, casually bantering back and forth between songs, and also playfully engaging with the crowd. And these weren't just some phoned-in, scripted lines; they would converse with the front rows and remark on the bayside venue, which they observed was also attended by freeloaders on rafts and those out on the balconies of the adjoining inn.
And the music was good, of course. I'd written previously of my fondness for Tegan and Sara's latest album, Heartthrob. The production on the album is polished beyond what is possible in a live human performance, so some songs did not sound as great as I knew them. "Love They Say," in particular, doesn't really work live, because, even thematically, it speaks from an idealized view of love and should be matched with perfect otherworldly vocals. My favorite song from Heartthrob, "Now I'm All Messed Up," also seemed to overly tax Tegan's cords on the high notes. It probably didn't help that it was among their last songs (positioned so because it is a fan favorite) on a long night in a busy week, but, even if it wasn't the best I'd ever heard it, I still enjoyed hearing them perform it live. On the bright side, the bass levels seemed way louder than on my home setup, so that enhanced many of the songs. Consequently sounding more than ever like a dance track, "Drove Me Wild" also benefited from an extended 40-second intro—more than double the length of the album version's. A longer intro generally gives the band more time to warm up and the fans a moment to cheer on first recognizing the song, but, in this case, it also encouraged the crowd to groove out in a way I never would to the album version.
In addition to their new songs off Heartthrob, they also played a few of their older hits. From The Con (2007), they played favorites "Back in Your Head" and "The Con." Off If It Was You (2002) was "Living Room." And from So Jealous (2004), they played "Where Does the Good Go." These songs remained more modest compared to their Heartthrob performances—they didn't add a bunch of synth to them—but it was interesting to hear these older tracks sung by a more mature Tegan and Sara. You can always tell the twins apart not only by their hairstyles but also their personalities, which are reflected in their vocal performances. Sara tends to be the sweeter of the two, while Tegan is throatier and more ironic. On the older albums, the differences are harder to make out, I suspect because their voices are naturally more similarly somewhere in the middle, and they have actually put in work over the years to give themselves each a more distinct performing voice. Even so, I find they've become more confident, less affectedly chirpy as vocalists, compared to when they originally recorded those songs. Or maybe they were just really young at the time, and their voices have literally changed. In any case, I found myself newly enjoying the old songs.
They also played "Arrow" and "Alligator" off Sainthood (2009). Not my favorite of their albums, although Sara having to stop in the middle of "Alligator" because the distraction of her untied shoelace had caused her to forget the lyrics yielded a highlight of the night.
For the encore, they played acoustic versions of "Call It Off" and "Nineteen" from The Con. Very nice, especially as Tegan shared the story behind "Nineteen," written about their early years after high school, when they gambled on committing their lives to their music, not knowing if they would ever make it. Finally, they closed out the night with a stripped-down version of "Feel It in My Bones," originally a track they collaborated on with DJ Tiesto for his trance album Kaleidoscope.