“When s— gets real, music comes out,” Sara Quin of Tegan and Sara quipped around the halfway point of the Canadian twin sister-duo’s sold-out show at Lincoln Theatre Wednesday night. She couldn’t have been more right: Conflicting concepts of self-image, burgeoning sexuality and the exploration of psychedelic drugs — all detailed in the Quins’ new memoir, “High School” — shaped the individuals seen on stage.
This evening with Tegan and Sara was unlike any other experience presented by the sisters: They performed together, just the two of them, and alone at times — all with poignant, heartfelt and often humorous excerpts from “High School.” I have been to several Tegan and Sara concerts over the years, and this show was their most outstanding live effort yet. The New York Times best-selling authors were able to freeze time, creating a powerful, visceral juxtaposition between their ’90s high school years and present day. The best part was that all eyes were on them.
With Tegan and Sara’s more recent works up until “Hey, I’m Just Like You,” it was easy to get distracted and lose the meaning of the music, with the brash, maximalist ’80s beats of “Heartthrob” and the sleek, slinky undertones of “Love You to Death.” They began to lift the metaphorical curtain of vulnerability at their intimate Con X tour in 2017, touring with a minimal band under a sky full of stars. Here, the curtain is torn away, leaving the Quins with nothing but guitars, a piano and their memories.
Earlier in the show, Sara described her life as a twin in high school as “living life with a witness” — later, when she recounted getting her first girlfriend, she realized she would be experiencing things for the first time without Tegan by her side.
The inclusion of the book excerpts along with the songs was not only a good marketing choice, but a strong thematic one. Songs from Tegan and Sara’s catalog hit differently with the stories they told — “Boyfriend” glistened with heartache and “I Was a Fool” was tinged with regret.
During “Please Help Me,” I could imagine Tegan and Sara’s high school selves watching over them as Sara sang lyrics she wrote as a teenager: “What if I become all of the horrible things I said I would never be?”
Another touching moment — Tegan and Sara playing piano side by side as Sara sang one of Tegan’s signature songs, “Call It Off” — brought tears to my eyes.
The icing on the cake, however, was Tegan and Sara’s incredible performance throughout the night. They kept the 588-person audience in the palms of their hands throughout the two-hour show, taking them by surprise at every turn. Tegan’s charm lit up the audience from the first moments of the concert, while Sara’s cautious, articulate vocals pierced through the air unlike any vocalist I’ve ever heard. The musical arrangements of the songs were sparse, but they filled the entire room with sound, radiating with relentless poignancy.
Performing these songs in such a minimalistic fashion exemplifies the precocious talent the sisters had while in high school — the majority of the songs performed were from “Hey, I’m Just Like You,” an album composed of songs they wrote as teenagers. The sisters’ slicing, witty banter kept the audience on its toes. They created a heartfelt, personable stage persona that made you feel as if they’ve been your friends for years. Between the songs and book excerpts, videos of Tegan and Sara from their youth were projected onto a screen on stage, allowing the audience to immerse itself into the world the book was describing and the songs were written in.
Tegan and Sara’s Hey, I’m Just Like You: The Tour is a not only a stellar anomaly of a concert, but it boils their artistry down to its essence: powerful, arresting and absolutely breathtaking to witness.