Tegan & Sara Fill First Avenue With Heart And Passion


Photos by John Oakes

I honestly used to dislike Tegan & Sara. Their music made me sad and I know that’s not a bad thing but, as a person who is constantly fighting off that next mental breakdown or that next bout of depression, it was just not something that I enjoyed. I’m not sure what happened, not do I care, but these days Tegan & Sara have been hitting just right so I was beyond ecstatic to witness their magic live at the legendary First Avenue mainroom on Tuesday night.

Before I get into the charm and magic that was Tegan & Sara, let’s talk about opening act Carlie Hanson because, although I knew nothing about her walking into the show, I instantly fell head over heels for this Wisconsinite. I’ll be honest, as Carlie and her friend (whose name I did not catch) took the stage and she explained that this was going to be an acoustic set, my heart broke a little bit. Although I was mentally prepared for the emotion that comes with Tegan & Sara’s music, I was not prepared for a sad and slow acoustic opening act. Thankfully, that is not at all what Carlie gave the audience and, by the end of her opening set, I was feeling rejuvenated and ready to take on the insanity that will be Riot Fest this weekend.

Carlie seemed to be super comfortable on stage which came off in a charming way. Instead of seeming like she needed a couple of songs to really warm up to the crowd and vice versa, she hit the microphone hard and instantly won over the hearts of everyone in the venue. Her lyrics revolve around trying to find yourself while not losing yourself and although they felt youthful solely due to Carlie’s young age, it was a message that resonated with everyone and seemed to hit me ridiculously hard.

There was something almost liquid about Carlie’s vocals. They were poppy but with this angsty edge that just showed how much heart, passion, and fire Carlie had behind her. Typically, this is where I would talk about wanting to see Carlie with a full band but, the fact is, I don’t want to see that. Having Carlie’s vocals in the spotlight with just an acoustic guitar in the background was something that had me sold on her. I feel like adding any other instrument would have taken away from the power that came through so loud and clear and it’s that power that has me absolutely obsessed with Carlie Hanson after seeing her for the first time on Tuesday night.

Although I was clearly captivated and struck by Carlie Hanson, I was at First Avenue to see Tegan and Sara. Tuesday night’s show was a bit of a redemption story for this band and Minneapolis. They were supposed to play last November but had to cancel due to illness. Them explaining the cancellation and apologizing to the crowd was a small moment of their set on Tuesday night but it made a lasting impact on me. The two musicians went back and forth talking about how much they hate seeing bands cancel a show because they are sick only to have fans bad mouth them for canceling. I mean, come on people, musicians are not machines– they are people, mere mortals. It happens and, like the duo explained, they have been doing this for twenty-five years. “Sometimes you just need to call in sick. Don’t beat yourself up!” the two said. This comment was met with a roar of applause from the audience and, for some reason, like Carlie’s set, this statement hit me hard. Maybe it was the timeliness of it after having to call in sick a couple of days last week or maybe it’s just the exhaustion and stress getting the best of me. Regardless, as I mentioned, it was a small moment that made an impact on me.

That was not the only moment of the night that shined a super personable light on this duo and their backing band. Throughout the set, the twin sisters would stop and address the crowd. There were moments of heaviness and moments of light-heartedness. Regardless of what they were talking about, their banter with the audience, and between each other, came off as beautifully organic and honest– much like their music.

Being that I just now seem to be giving this band the attention they deserve, I couldn’t tell you what songs from what albums they played on Tuesday night but I can tell you that every song sounded like it had come straight off the album. These two women have very distinct voices that shouldn’t work well together yet they come together and form this absolutely beautiful sound that will make even the coldest heart skip a beat. Seeing that on the stage right in front of me and feeling that music in my soul definitely gave me a sense of calm and peace which, as the reality of working Riot Fest in just two days sets in, was all I could ask for.

I already set my plans for Riot Fest and, although Tegan and Sara are playing there, they didn’t make my initial schedule. Part of this was due to me just now really getting into this band, part of it was due to all of the conflicts that line up with their set, and part was because, well, I just saw them. After their performance on Tuesday, I am changing my schedule around to see them in Chicago. I don’t care who I miss on the other stages, that feeling I got as I watched them play through their set on Tuesday is something that I want more of.