As examples of post-modern rock girls, Tegan and Sara Quin are about as rebellious as Hello Kitty. Their sound is somewhat sanitized, a commercial combination of Avril’s anger, Alanis’s aggression and Pink’s provocation. In fact, they’re so genial and good natured that the whispers resulting from their rapid rise to semi-stardom seem mean spirited and evil. Many have focused on the gals’ declared lesbianism (making a few inappropriate incest jokes along the way) while others have concentrated on their rambling onstage banter, accusing the girls of covering up their lack of talent with the natural nervous reaction of endless chatter.
The truth of the twins musical acumen lies somewhere in the middle. They do make the Go-Gos look like The Slits, but at the same time, they are far removed from the whole Jessica/Ashley Simpson sibling source of aural atrocities. Over the course of four albums and a couple of EPs they have shown incredible growth as both tunesmiths, and most importantly, song stylists. They’ve developed their own approach to writing, relying less on gimmickry and more on personal emotion to sell their sentiments. The result is a collection of clever, poppy pronouncements that make up the vast majority of It’s Not Fun. Don’t Do It‘s live concert DVD document.
Really a souvenir to all the fans that have supported the gals over the many grueling years, this digital presentation is a solid overview of an act finding its footing in the demanding business of rock ‘n’ roll. Though they come across as sheepish, and sort of shy, both Tegan and Sara are sharp where their careers are concerned, and all throughout the bonus material featured here (commentary tracks, behind the scenes / making of documentaries) the pair provides insight into their most compelling business issues. Sure, a lot of the discussion centers on look, fashion, hair, appearance and other superficial subjects. But instead of being pure MTV icons, these woman want something far more important out of their 15 minutes of fame. They actually hope for an unlimited amount of time in the limelight.
After watching their hour long live performance, you could easily see such a temporal scenario playing out. Stripping down their sound to a basic five piece approach (guitars, bass, keyboards and drums) and relying more on band interaction and skill than flashy showboating, we get 13 solid songs that walk the border between confrontation and confection. Though its occasionally bathed in an aura of defiance and alienation, tunes like “I Bet It Stung”, “So Jealous”, and “This Is Everything” are the kind of ear candy the tween types slurp up like sugar soaked pixie sticks. In fact, it’s rather obvious why the girls are frequently dismissed. Without really listening to what they have to say, they appear like interchangeable entities in a radio programmer’s daily consulting report.
But there is much more to Tegan and Sara than merchandising tie-ins and demographically positioned appearances. These young women want to explore the basic foundations of their sound, to experiment and explore. During a marvelous look behind the making of their 2004 album So Jealous, we watch the duo creating their songs, arguing over their arrangements, and spending significant studio time meticulously attempting to recreate the sounds that they hear in their heads. Though this could all be PR phoniness, our young stars “acting” like talented tortured artists, the footage feels genuine. One of the most important aspects to Tegan and Sara’s personality is their authenticity. It’s an element that captivated established acts, and eventually landed them on tour with Neil Young, The Pretenders, and Lilith Fair.
Still, Tegan and Sara are not the raucous riot grrrrls the pair would like to paint themselves as. Their music barely mandates such a sentiment, and their slightly silly videos (included here as well) careen wildly from goofy to Goth. The dichotomous approach to their public appearance is clearly show when comparing an early clip like “Speak Slow” to the far more moody “Living Room”. The former is a funky little number featuring the band in reality show mode. We see them joking with each other, trading instruments, and mimicking individual idiosyncrasies. The latter has a look of a bad independent film, the frequent shots of the gal’s downward glancing buffered by inserts of ominous clouds and dire horizons.
It’s a visual schizophrenia that the girls have gladly adopted. During the commentary track accompanying the concert, we learn that the pair purposefully cut out all the onstage banter from the performances, believing that it “slowed down” the show. Truth is, many find their demeanor distracting from their clear live chops. As a result, they now come across as more serious and focused. But without the added element of their casual communicating with the audience, the girl’s true personality is being purposefully avoided. Considering the extent of the media manipulation under which we live daily, such a nonchalant approach to reality is rather disconcerting.
Perhaps this is why the material found within this DVD requires such constant contextualizing from the duo. They defend the importance of the proper look while extolling their appreciation for European audiences (they have more “fun” than American crowds, dancing, singing, and—most importantly—clapping overhead). They recognize that for years their image has been haphazardly tossed in with all the punk pop poseurs, and want to make a name for themselves outside such a stifling sonic categorization. Even more curious, they never once mention their sexual orientation. True, ‘straight’ artists aren’t filling up their digital curios with facts about how many hetero relationships they’ve had recently, but gay celebrity seems to spawn a sense of inherent activism. Tegan and Sara aren’t out to be symbols, however. One could argue that they’re barely ‘out’ at all.
Of course, none of this will matter to the twins’ converted. The chance to see them perform live, to hear them comment on their own concert, to discuss the direction—and disappointments—in their music videos and the grueling pace of even a small venue tour will flesh out their façade nicely. Others, new to the duo, will see this as a pleasant if non-persuasive introduction to their music. Some of their songs are indeed memorable. A few rock like the fiery femmes the girls obviously admire. But Tegan and Sara are still firmly entrenched in the middle of the radio-friendly road. Taking risks will require a bit more maturity on the part of these just turned 20-somethings. Thankfully, they appear prepared for the relevancy task at hand.