Tegan & Sara + Astronautalis - Big Top Luna Park (07.05.10)


If you hadn't seen Tegan and Sara previous to their current tour, it's certainly not because you didn't have the chance - the Canadian siblings have made a habit of visiting our fair country on an eighteen-month average. What made this particular tour particularly notable, however, was the fact that their love affair with the land of Oz has culminated in playing the biggest venues they've ever played here. In Sydney's instance, it was the dreaded Big Top at Luna Park - known more for its atrocious sound and flawed construction than anything else. Thankfully, the bad venue choice didn't seem to phase the Quin twins, as they proceeded to put on a charming and sprightly performance for an adoring crowd - business as usual for them, but just on a grander scale.

Having missed The Jezabels by a second, the name Astronautalis meant basically nothing to most of the crowd. So when it turned out to be a white experimental hip-hop artist with a throat like Tom Waits, naturally there was some confusion amongst the audience - in particular those that favour the Quins' boppier singles territory. Nevertheless, our hero - born Andy Bothwell - persevered and put on a performance with sweat-drenched intensity and a knowing sneer to those scratching their heads. He ended the set by heading into the front row, humourously ad-libbing lyrics such as "please let go of my goddamn mic!" and "I need these clothes to play a show in Melbourne". He might have been a left-of-centre choice of support, but he managed to convert at least a significant portion of the crowd. The ovation at the end of his performance, even when he packed up his laptop, seemed to go on for ages. Bothwell wasn't the only one with a ridiculous smile on his face at the end.

The details to differentiate between between the last Tegan and Sara tour in January 2009 were relatively minor. A new record, Sainthood, had come out - a pleasant release but distinctly lacking in the creativity and versatility their last record, The Con, offered in spades. A fancy light show and backdrop was also provided for the performance, which made for a pleasing aesthetic. Something wasn't particularly right on-stage, however - the six musicians were practically motionless throughout the entire set, discomforted by their newly enlarged Sydney surroundings. The banter was still fairly frequent, but neither of the Quins could even complete a sentence without incessant squealing. You could even hear the heartbreak in Tegan's voice as she mumbled how she "used to be able to hold a conversation with all of you...but now there's just thousands of you and I can't do that". Something was amiss amongst the group, which was fairly easy to pick up if you weren't shrieking along to the songs.

Musically, still, they sounded tight and everything was on-key; of that there was no dispute. The setlist was a great variety, too, bringing out favourites from all over their discography and arranging them wonderfully - the So Jealous highlights "You Wouldn't Like Me" and "I Bet It Stung" worked fantastically next to one another; and the energy of "Walking With a Ghost" weaved its way into the joyful "Speak Slow". The highlight of the main set was "Nineteen", delivered in that perfect close harmony that defines the T & S sound and encompassing of the full-band sound to its peak. It was unfortunate that by the time the Quins had actually started to get the swing of it, returning for a lengthy, primarily-acoustic encore, that it was time to say goodbye. Even without a microphone in front of us, the crowd managed to echo everything that the twins sang during their hit "Back In Your Head"- performed with just a guitar and a xylophone - and equal her in volume. A stripped-back rendition of their Tiesto collaboration, "Feel It In My Bones", was also both a surprise and a welcome inclusion to the set; while The Con closer "Call It Off" left many of the audience misty-eyed and recalling their own personal heartbreak. It was a wonderful string of songs that saw the girls truly come into their own as performers, arguably for the first time of the evening.

Most fans weren't left disappointed, and at the absolute core of it you couldn't particularly blame them - name a well-known T & S song and it was played, and played well. Even still, from a bigger-picture perspective, it wasn't hard to tell that the sisters won't be walking through the giant smile of Luna Park again anytime soon. We need Tegan and Sara here in Australia, but we need them in smaller venues. And so do they.