Review and photos: Tegan and Sara revisit ‘The Con,’ quietly, at the State Theatre

Photos by Emmet Kowler/MPR

“You guys were so much more emotional and real,” said Sara Quin, paraphrasing something she’s heard in recent weeks as she and her sister/bandmate Tegan Quin revisit their 2007 album The Con. Sara’s response? “Eh, f— you.”

The implication was that people who think synthpop albums like Heartthrob (2013) and Love You to Death (2016) aren’t “emotional and real” just aren’t listening. In touring with a reimagined performance of The Con, Tegan and Sara seem to be making an argument for the thematic and musical coherence of a career that now spans two decades.

The Con came at the midpoint of that career, and while it’s easy to understand why the suggestion that it was somehow more genuine than their recent work irks the band, it’s also not a stretch to understand why a listener might come away with that impression. The album feels raw in a way that’s unique in Tegan and Sara’s discography, alternately hurtling forward and drawing back with intimate revelations echoing in the minimalist cathedral the band built with producer Chris Walla.

For this tenth anniversary tour, Tegan and Sara are playing the album in a stripped-down mode. The twins stand on a raised platform at center stage, flanked by guitarist Tim Mislock and keyboardist Gabrial McNair. No rhythm section, few programmed beats. It’s a mode familiar to the band’s fans: they’ve long pared down for in-studio sessions like last year’s stop at The Current, and for performances like those captured on the live album Get Along (2011).

At the State Theatre in Minneapolis last night, the new versions cast a spell — one that was frequently broken, however, by extended rap sessions that had the sisters holding forth on everything from their respective personalities (Tegan’s the dog, Sara’s the cat) to a recent flight where they were seated behind Sam Smith (a flight attendant loudly blurted, “Are you guys sisters?!”) to the rudeness of certain concertgoers (Sara very politely threatened to have one person, who was yelling sexual comments, removed from the venue).

It was a stark contrast to the recent local show, also quiet, by Bob Dylan. Whereas Dylan didn’t say a word and drew listeners into his musical world, Tegan and Sara prefer to connect with their audience on a different level. They pointed out that they try not to repeat stories on the road, making this anniversary tour much different than the kind of nostalgia tour where stars take breaks to repeat canned reminisces.

In fact, last night they said surprisingly little about the album itself, aside from a sweet story Tegan shared about connecting with an uncle who was her neighbor during The Con era, when she lived in a house above a family of rowdy raccoons. That was prompted by a raccoon banner, one of five woodland-themed visual elements created by the band’s designer Emy Storey.

Tegan and Sara clearly know their fans are in it to win it, and won’t be turned off by jokes about “Tegan’s stupid shaker” (hand percussion during “Back in Your Head”) or about “Hop a Plane,” a Tegan composition that Sara described as “famously not my favorite song on the record.”

After finishing The Con, Tegan and Sara played seven more songs in a similar style, dipping into deep tracks like “The Ocean” and “Red Belt” from Sainthood — and underlining the idea that The Con is a representative, rather than exceptional, entry in their canon. They also paused to speak about their newly-founded Tegan and Sara Foundation, a way to formalize their commitment to addressing the needs of LGBTQ women and girls. (A newly released album with various artists covering songs from The Con benefits the foundation.)

“We do not take for granted 19 years of your time,” said Tegan, summing up the sense of legacy that underlay this particularly contemplative evening with one of the most persistently engaging and fascinating bands of their generation. Their long history with Minneapolis now includes many memorable shows, and one unforgettable night a few years back at the Gay 90s. “I don’t think I’ve been that drunk ever since,” said Tegan, “because I live in fear of that day.”

Setlist
I Was Married (The Con, 2007)
Relief Next to Me (The Con, 2007)
The Con (The Con, 2007)
Knife Going In (The Con, 2007)
Are You Ten Years Ago (The Con, 2007)
Back In Your Head (The Con, 2007)
Hop a Plane (The Con, 2007)
Soil, Soil (The Con, 2007)
Burn Your Life Down (The Con, 2007)
Nineteen (The Con, 2007)
Floorplan (The Con, 2007)
Like O, Like H (The Con, 2007)
Dark Come Soon (The Con, 2007)
Call It Off (The Con, 2007)
Now I’m All Messed Up (Heartthrob, 2013)
The Ocean (Sainthood, 2009)
White Knuckles (Love You to Death, 2016)
Living Room (If It Was You, 2002)
Bad Ones (Matthew Dear collaboration, 2017)
Red Belt (Sainthood, 2009)
Closer (Heartthrob, 2013)

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