Thursday, September 5, 2013

Fun., Tegan and Sara concert review: Los Angeles

A version of my review originally appeared at
Photos by Armando Brown.

Right before start time Tuesday night, a Greek Theatre announcer listed the performers – and opening duo Tegan and Sara drew louder cheers than top-billed act fun. It wasn’t a surprise, considering the twin sisters started putting out albums in 1999 and have incredibly devoted fans.

Taylor Swift considers herself a major one. Last month, during one of her four shows at Staples Center, she invited the Canadian pair onstage to perform their recent No. 1 dance chart hit “Closer.” The country superstar even professed that T&S’ latest album Heartthrob was among her all-time faves and that everyone “needs to have” it. Definitely high praise.

At the Greek, the Quin siblings nearly stole the show – but more on that later.

Fun. is among the biggest success stories of the past couple years, garnering a platinum sophomore album (Some Nights), two Top 5 singles (the title track and the anthem “We Are Young”) selling in excess of 4 million copies combined, and two Grammy Awards, best new artist and song of the year.

For the first of two sold-out concerts at the L.A. landmark – the New York City trio’s biggest showing here to date – the guys emerged in the corner of the stage, huddled together and clad in dinner jackets to start an exuberant 90-minute set in dramatic fashion with “Some Nights (Intro).” 

Quickly shedding those formal clothes, three backing musicians joined them to head straight into the crashing “One Foot.” Singer Nate Ruess was all over the place as Andrew Dost added trumpet.

With many preteens in attendance, it was unsettling to hear Ruess spew f-bombs at every turn. Then again, since kids gleefully sang along about “getting higher than the Empire State” amid “We Are Young,” it probably didn’t matter.

There’s an underlying poignancy and vulnerability to many of Ruess’ lyrics, with mortality and parental graciousness as touchstones. But on this balmy evening, he came across more smug than sincere, although maybe that was just tour fatigue.

Several terrific tunes from the group’s underrated 2009 debut Aim and Ignite provided highlights, including the Broadway-meets-Jamaica vibe of “At Least I’m Not Sad,” the ELO-styled “All the Pretty Girls” and a jaunty, extended celebration with “Barlights.” As during other numbers, Ruess’ sustained vocal notes on the latter (complete with guitar smashing and confetti plumes) were remarkable.

The band wisely downplayed the electronic effects on racing rocker “It Gets Better,” guitarist Jack Antonoff instead channeling his inner Brian May and Ruess eschewing Auto-Tune effects until much later. Touching, acoustic-based ballad “The Gambler” was prefaced with odd comical bantering that mixed in Dost destroying part of his piano, someone tossing their cellphone (!) near Antonoff, and that fun-ster berating the crowd for lack of enthusiasm – due, in his estimation, to possible StubHub ticket-holders, not true fans, crowding the front of the stage.

Fun. has indulged different covers throughout this tour; L.A. got the Rolling Stones’ “You Can’t Always Get What You Want.” Although it was a little out of Ruess’ range, the band’s version was passable. “We Are Young” was a spirited sing-along, as expected, but encore “Some Nights” ended up surpassing its energy level.

Since I missed Tegan and Sara’s late-night set at Coachella last spring, it was great to finally see their hour-long Greek debut, riveting from start to finish.

Complemented by striking visual effects, much of their performance concentrated on the alluring synth-pop of Heartthrob, an excellent effort nominated for Canada’s prestigious Polaris Music Prize, presented later this month.

The Quins’ searing new relationship tales, penned together for the first time, cut right to the quick. Live, they were even more effective: sleek, upbeat opener “Drove Me Wild” had fans dancing around, while the ladies’ vocal trade-offs, wailing and overlapping harmonies on “Goodbye, Goodbye,” “I Couldn’t Be Your Friend,” an anguished “How Come You Don’t Want Me?” and more were stunning. A sparse, haunting “Now I’m All Messed Up” and the dark alt-rock of “Shock to Your System” were revelations.

Moving from guitars to keyboards on various songs, the female musicians were backed by four guys who could be GQ models. T&S’ nods to their indie-rock roots, like “The Con,” “Where Does the Good Go?” and “Back in Your Head,” also fit in well. Finally, the exuberant dance strains of “Closer” got everyone standing – and seemed to win over even fun.’s followers.

1 comment:

ida said...

Sounds like a fun (pun intended) double-bill. I've seen performances of both bands on TV shows, and was esp. impressed by Tegan and Sara. Great review!