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Tegan and Sara Clinch Final East Coast Concert at Starland Ballroom

by Zoë Gorman

Tns-spraypaintwebPhoto credit: Lindsey Byrnes

Amidst enormous cheering, twin-sister indie-pop duo Tegan and Sara brought an intense stage presence, powerful vocals, and a seamless set to the Starland Ballroom in Sayreville, New Jersey, on Friday.

Tegan rocked a fringed, flowing asymmetrical hairstyle, while Sara struck rigid poses and appeared to have an intense relationship with her microphone. Often without pausing between energetic numbers, the Canadian duo kept up a constant hype. They mixed old-time classics, such as "The Con" and "Walking with the Ghost," from a 13-year career with new hits off their most recent album, Heartthrob.

Many songs reached a myriad of emotional layers associated with a breakup by staying upbeat and incorporating punchy vocals against softer backgrounds. Live synths made the melodies more intricate and the sound more polished, but Tegan and Sara also paid homage to their roots as an acoustic duo during the concert’s encore, when they performed a few songs without the rest of the band. The crowd—composed mostly of alternatively dressed women in their 20s—cheered wildly throughout.

"We’ve been on tour all summer with Fun., but there's nothing like playing in front of people who know who you are," the group announced a few songs into Friday's set.

The band balanced catchy, well-constructed riffs with a nice interspersing of vocals. The newer numbers, such as "I Was a Fool," developed a more contoured set of melody lines that made for effective builds into and through the choruses. The most recent album also tends to steer clear of incessant, whiny vocals or redundant lyrics that have limited the group's appeal in the past; rather, vocal techniques are used to highlight particularly emotional sections or words. On Friday, the group came out strong performing songs from five of its seven albums, though they appeared to be rushing a bit on old favorites such as "Where Did the Good Go."

Tegan and Sara closed the main part of the concert with "Closer," which achieved certified-platinum status in Canada and reached number one on Billboard's Hot Dance Club Songs earlier this year. Synthesizer arpeggios, pounding bass drums, fast-paced rhymes, and steady build to a wailing two-part vocal chorus make this song essentially pop. In concert, the duo brought out an upward vocal inflexion at the end of each line of the verse for a signature quality. 

Willie Nile, who opened for Tegan and Sara, said in an interview after the show that he was excited to see the duo's hard work pay off over the years. The folk-rocker and his motorcycle-dude entourage kept the audience jumping with active riffs and strong chord progressions, albeit pounding material and short, repeated phrases occupied most of the songs.

The first opening act, Plastiq Passion, fit the venue better as an empowering grrl-rock group with potential for enormous indie appeal. Catchy and tuneful vocals, superb use of toms to build momentum into choruses, well-coordinated instrumental breaks, and cool, indie guitar riffs (one suspiciously resembling Grouplove’s "Tounge Tied") were this young group's recipe for success. The band mixed singing, sultry bass lines with racing guitar tab on hit numbers such as "Tragic" and "Angel." Vocals in the lower register could use a little more punch, but overall this group brought all of the soul of hard rock with all the innovation of indie.

Photo credit: David Rodberg

Plastiq Passion, which previously opened for The Misfits, uses a collaborative approach to writing its songs that builds off ideas from lead singer Jessica Chaos.

"You have to really embrace the idea that [the songs are] not going to be entirely yours anymore," Chaos said in an interview. "There's a lot of compromise."

Tegan and Sara finished their East Coast shows on the Today Show and will be touring internationally starting next month, but Plastiq Passion is slated to play a cancer benefit concert at Mother Pug's Saloon in Staten Island on October 19.