Tegan and Sara, Holly Miranda, Steel Train
Friday, March 5, 2010
Fox Theater, Oakland
Better than: What mainstream America imagines a mass lesbian get-together to be.
Tegan and Sara do not have "fans." They have devotees. They have adherents. They have worshippers, followers and even what you might call stalkers, if throwing undergarments at people whom you haven't met counts as stalking. The attractive, largely female, largely aggressively-hair-styled bunch who sold out the Fox theater Friday night were not those casual admirers some bands have, who show up at concerts merely to hear to music they enjoy. These were Tegan and Sara adorers, who exploded with gratitude at the conclusion of each song ("I think I'm going to cry," moaned one) and howled with affection at the slightest comment from the lesbian twins. Known for their kindly, sincere banter as well as their heart-on-sleeve lyrics about the turbulence of love, this meant Tegan Quin and Sara Quin had someone in the place howling pretty much the whole time.
Many fans, though, were busy doing other things with their lips. The performance impelled attendees to either stare with adoring eyes and yelp with glee at those onstage, or make out constantly with whoever they came with. One mild, straight teenage couple locked lips and got down to almost second base, threatening to upstage a group of lesbians who clearly felt this was their scene. But the booze-lubed lesbos didn't have much to feel threatened by: It was their scene, from the moment the rainbow flag went flying at the start of opener "The Ocean," to the uproarious laughter when Tegan, recalling an adventure from the tour's recent stop in Las Vegas, mentioned that her sister nearly got hitched to the bassist from Holly Miranda's band. "You know you're having a good time with an opening act when Sara, the lesbian, almost marries a man," she joked.
With their wordy, sometimes awkwardly frank lyrics and brisk tempos, it's often hard to tell whether Tegan and Sara are a pop group with punky edges, or punk girls with a helluva knack for hooks. Onstage at the Fox, it was easy to place them within the pop sphere. Sharing their personal ruminations with a full house didn't make their songs seem any less self-obsessed, and what bite their music has was mostly smoothed over by the crisp live sound and elaborate, gorgeous lighting. (Punk groups, after all, rarely have techs bring them freshly tuned guitars in between each song.) Drums and bass came through so heavily in the mix that we struggled to hear the twins' blunt power-chording, except on songs like "Walking With a Ghost," to which it was essential. But the overhead lights made it easy to tell which Quin sis wrote which song, bathing its singer in sharp colors.
Warning the crowd that they would play "first new songs, then old songs," the twins ripped through 24 numbers in about 90 minutes, covering much of current album Sainthood while grabbing hits from breakout record So Jealous and even reaching back, during the encore, to material from their 1999 debut, Under Feet Like Ours. They stopped only to issue gratitude and to ask the simmering audience to please not throw beer cups and books directly at them: "If you were going to throw something at me, I wish it was a hug," Sara said at one point, melting the crowd even more.
Near the end of the last night of their current tour, the twins got wistful: "Everybody says they want to tour," Tegan said. "We really mean it." With their live show less like a concert and more like a mass catharsis for their community of devotees, we don't doubt her one bit.
Due to misadventures on public transit, we arrived too far into Holly Miranda
's set to get more than a taste. But the taste we got was a little bit more soupy than we would have liked, with her gorgeous, range-y voice buried too far into a washy mix to appreciate. Initially lukewarm to her charms, we've found ourselves seduced of late by her debut, The Magician's Private Library
We failed to get a definitive take on her the other night, but what do those who caught the whole set think? Leave your take in the comments section below.