Tegan and Sara’s latest album, “Heartthrob,” abandons their old indie aesthetic like a generation of teens ditching Myspace for Facebook. Predictably, this change has garnered some grumbling from fans of their early, guitar-and-piano-driven work, who perhaps equate electricity with selling out.
Live, however, those differences in production were barely recognizable. Old songs got a synthed-up treatment, and new ones lost their pop polish amid the clangor, revealing that what matters about this band is not whether the Quin sisters are strumming guitars but rather what they’re singing about and how they‘re connecting with their audience.
Tegan and Sara brought that connection to Stage AE Thursday night, the 17th show on their 20-show “Let’s Make Things Physical” American tour.
After an opening set by The Courtneys and a powerful vocal performance by My Midnight Heart, the Canadian-born identical-twins and their four-man backing band launched into their set with “Goodbye, Goodbye,” a synth-hook driven piece that started off sounding like an iPhone commercial but still wound up giving me breakup flashbacks.
Visually, the band was rather new wave-y. A latticework of colored lights framed a stage littered with keyboards. The backing band wore all black and looked like they’d all gotten the same fade haircuts. The twins wore identical black leggings, skirts and leather jackets. Tegan would have looked out of place in one of her old plaid shirts.
Sonically, however, they found their balance somewhere between the ’90s from whence they came and the idyll of the ’80s which presently enamors them.
This was most obvious with “Walking With a Ghost,” the 2005 song that floated the band up out of the indie underground. The song always had a keyboard track in it, and now, with the full band, it became rich and symphonic.
The best songs they played -- sorry, naysayers -- were the new ones. From the haunting “I Was a Fool” to “Now I’m All Messed Up,” which filled the room with a big, fuzzy noise, the “Hearthrob” songs were at once danceable and affecting. The high point was perhaps “How Come You Don’t Want Me,” a song that proves that 30-somethings are still capable of having their hearts crushed -- and perhaps even more so than their younger selves.
The biggest challenge the twins faced was figuring out what to do without guitars strapped on. At one point Tegan busted a couple of super minor and unimpressive dance moves, and Sara grappled with the mic stand like a more polite and self-conscious Axl Rose.
They might have to work on those dance moves. Otherwise, Tegan and Sara seem to have this whole pop star thing figured out.
Brett Sholtis: firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-263-1581.