Tegan and Sara had some changes to share in front of a full house of true believers last night at Club Nokia in Los Angeles as they delivered a new sound of searing, danceable electro-pop from Heartthrob, the duo’s 7th studio album. “This is only the second time we’ve played these new songs live,” Tegan Quin said from the stage, “and I’m very nervous.”
The new album was made with L.A.-based pop producer Greg Kurstin (also a member of the dreamy indie-pop duo the Bird and the Bee), but the sisters are making a shift in sound, not content. Bright, emotional hooks have always been there, fueling songs of hope and heartbreak. Last night, the twins just bounced a little higher with some romantic Eighties pop excitement.
They were originally set to debut their new songs for U.S. fans at the Beacon Theatre in New York days earlier, but the flu had robbed Sara of her voice, making the L.A. show the first chance fans have had to hear the material live, following a short set on Kimmel the night before. (The Beacon shows are now rescheduled for February 19th and 20th.)
For nearly two hours, the Calgary twins mixed dancefloor textures with their traditional singer-songwriter repertoire. The night began with the forceful hooks of “Back in Your Head,” both sisters slashing at acoustic guitars, mingling pure pop with alt-folk bite. There was hurt and euphoria in the new “Goodbye, Goodbye,” a potent echo of synth pop. Also from Heartthrob was the stormy “Shock to Your System,” set to a heavy tribal beat from drummer Adam Christgau and sung by Sara. She followed that up with an aching “How Come You Don’t Want Me,” clutching the microphone and bouncing restlessly on her heels.
The sisters reached back into the duo’s 14-year musical history, picking up electric guitars and barking melodically for an intentionally raw “Arrow.” Sara sang the bristling fan-fave “Walking With a Ghost,” strumming an anxious riff. Their “Not Tonight” was all about romantic dissatisfaction, morphing into a verse of Bruce Springsteen’s torrid “I’m On Fire.”
Among the older songs, “The Con” has perhaps had the most lasting impact on longtime fans, and was delivered last night with melodic force, flashing lights and genuine longing. Strumming their guitars, Tegan and Sara sang of raw, emotional uncertainty, wailing in tandem: “Nobody likes to, but I really like to cry / Nobody likes me, maybe if I cry.”
They were supported most of the night by a tight four-man band behind the synths, bass, drums and guitars, but occasionally the two stood alone onstage, their overlapping vocals in imperfect harmony, never surrendering emotion to polish. There was no doubt in their excitement and commitment to the new beats and textures of Heartthrob. The animated “Closer,” which opens the new album, made a clear statement on the new pop horizons and old obsessions: “Let’s make things physical . . . I want you.”
“You can’t just sing the words. You’ve got to think about something traumatizing,” said Tegan from the stage, leading a fan sing-along. “I want you to blow my hair back with your passion.”