Tegan and Sara Live Preview
Oct. 4 @ The Aladdin Theater, Portland
Oct. 5, 209 @ Benaroya Hall, Seattle
By Kym Budzygon
To support the release of their upcoming album and book, iconic indie-pop duo Tegan and Sara will play a series of small-venue concerts including Portland’s Aladdin Theater on Oct. 4 and Seattle’s Benaroya Hall on Oct. 5. The new album, Hey, I’m Just Like You, drops on Sept. 27 while their first book, a memoir called High School, came out on Sept 24. The band is embarking on a multi-city tour that includes stops at bookstores to promote the memoir as well as smaller venue shows that will include readings, new and classic songs, archived video footage and surely some sisterly banter.
Hey, I’m Just Like You mixes and melds sections from songs and demos that the two wrote in high school and sets them against polished production. On their website, Tegan and Sara explain how the album was inspired by old recordings they discovered while working on the memoir:
“Last year while writing our new memoir, we came across two cassette tapes with dozens of songs we wrote in high school. Defiant and melodramatic, the songs captured the exultation and grief of first loves, first losses, ecstatic kiss-offs, and psychedelic tributes to the friendships we had as teenagers. It had been over twenty years since we had heard the songs and quite honestly, we both expected to listen once, cringe, and bury them for another couple decades. But they were good. Like, really good. They were raw, and in some cases the lyrics were hard to decipher. But the melodies, the honesty in the words, and the joy listening to them after all these years was undeniable. We decided immediately that those songs were the demos we’d use to build the new Tegan and Sara record.”
I’ll admit, when I first heard the premise, I wasn’t sure how much I was going to like the album. Listening through their discography over the past few weeks, it’s clear how much their music has grown in both emotional and musical complexity over the years. Returning to high school—- a time many of us may remember as being a little heavier on drama than on depth—seemed like it could be a literal step backwards.
The band has been steadily dropping songs and teasers through their social media, including a music video for “I’ll Be Back Someday” and a lyric video to the title track Hey, I’m Just Like You. And let me set your fears (and mine to rest): based on these tracks, the new album will not disappoint. High energy, fun, filled with a tinge of nostalgia and maybe a little tongue-in-cheek humor (check out the 90’s swishy tracksuit in the I’ll be Back Someday video), and complete with all the beautiful harmonies, catchy choruses, and guitars (yes everyone, the guitars are back) that we’ve come to expect from Tegan and Sara.
The lyrics can feel a bit undeveloped in some parts- the “If I could pretend, If I could lieeeeeeeeee/If I could lie” section in “I’ll be back Someday” sounds like it was lifted directly from a doodle on a high school notebook- but the sophistication of the production saves it from ever going too far off the rails. Overall though, these tracks show that even as teenagers Tegan and Sara were starting to write songs with surprising clarity and strength.
And the choruses will be stuck in your head for days. “I’ll be Back Someday” is now permanently on rotation in my running mix (“I run run run run, run away/I get get get get away/But I’ll be back someday). And the “Headstrong tonight/Running through the streets ‘til we fly” section of “Hey, I’m Just Like You” is a beautiful moment in that song and a lovely ode to that feeling of being young and ready for anything.
Emotional connection has always been at the heart of Tegan and Sara’s music. While the style and production has shifted over the last 20 years and many albums, from the more earnest acoustic guitar sounds of “So Jealous”, to the darker punk vibe of “The Con”, to the synth-pop shift of “Heartthrob”, at the core has always been intensely relatable songwriting.
My own introduction to Tegan and Sara was as a freshman in college, newly coming to terms with my own coming out and listening to the track “Living Room” on endless repeat. (I give myself throwback bonus points for my copy being a burned mix from a friend’s girlfriend, presented on one of those blank silver CDs where you wrote all of the song names in black Sharpie bubble letters and which would eventually die a tragically scratched death.)
While their last studio album, Love You to Death, released in 2016, tipped the scales a little too far in the pop direction for some fans, it also broke new ground with songs like “Boyfriend” and “All Messed Up” being the most direct the band has been in their musical references to queer relationships. Tegan and Sara have always been visible and vocal LGBTQ advocates despite the homophobia and misogyny that was directed against them early in their career, and they’ve recently branched out into philanthropy by starting the Tegan and Sara Foundation with the stated mission to “fight for health, economic justice and representation for LGBTQ girls and women”.
The return to high school in both the memoir and new album seems to be part of their activism and fight for representation. By showcasing their younger selves and their complex, messy relationship to each other, to their sexuality and to their music, they invite us to consider our own growth as well to reflect on how the world has – or hasn’t – changed for the queer community in the last twenty years.
The Portland and Seattle shows are already sold out, but don’t despair. Tegan and Sara have promised an additional tour next year at bigger venues, and seem to still be adding dates and locations to the current tour.