Basel 2013: Tegan & Sara (and Big Fans Puking in the Sand) at VH1 and Scope Party

Photo by Ian Witlen

Tegan & Sara


SCOPE Pavilion, Miami Beach

Friday, December 6, 2013

At 8 p.m., the massive oceanfront tent that houses one of the largest auxiliary fairs during Art Basel Miami Beach week, Scope, closed its doors for the night. Nearby, a long line formed to enter a fenced-off bit of sand. The beautiful people and their benefactors jockeyed for position to get inside the invitation-only VH1- and Scope-hosted event.

Once inside, they were greeted with a candy apple station. There was one table where you could buy tacos, another with sushi, sweepstakes to win a Fiat -- that would also get you on the car company's mailing list -- and a cash bar. The only aspects of the party that did not involve commerce were the luxurious bathrooms set up in trailers and the main attraction, Tegan & Sara.

Photo by Ian Witlen

The Canadian twin sisters have been around in one form or another since the '90s. Their heavenly voices always unafraid to veer off in oddball directions. That is, until their latest album, Heartthrob, veered away from indie and into a much more commercial direction.

Toning down their endearing weirdness worked financially, since Heartthrob made it to number three on the charts. But to see such conformity is heartbreaking; no musician has approached such a shift since Liz Phair tried to go teenybopper.

Photo by Ian Witlen

At 10 p.m., Jim Shearer, the host of VH1's Top 20 Video Countdown, introduced Tegan & Sara by saying he never thought that he'd hear them on pop radio. He did not specify whether he thought this accomplishment was a positive or a negative.

Minutes later, the sisters walked on stage, wearing matching leather jackets and black pants, and backed by a four-piece band that was just as bland as their new album.

Photo by Ian Witlen

Fortunately, though, Tegan & Sara still possess their secret weapon: twin voices that work together to create untraditional harmonies.

They also came armed with humility and humor, charming every member of the audience who was actually paying attention and not checking the iPhone for the next Basel party to attend.

Photo by Ian Witlen

"I've only been here one night," Tegan said. "And I've seen a lot of debaucherous shit. I want to dedicate this song to everyone who breaks up this weekend." Then she launched into "I Couldn't Be Your Friend."

Not to be outdone, Sara later dedicated "Feel It in My Bones" to the guy who they saw puking in the sand on the way to the stage. "I'm sure he's a big Tegan & Sara fan."

Photo by Ian Witlen

"Feel It in My Bones," originally recorded with Dutch trance powerhouse Tiësto, was one of only two songs from the ten-song, 45-minute set that wasn't off Tegan & Sara's new album.

They also treated us to "Back in Your Head," which nailed being catchy and poppy while still sounding unique.

But giving us that snippet of what used to be was cruel.

Photo by Ian Witlen

The sisters have such an earnest stage presence, sharing with the audience that they were drunk, admitting that these kind of corporate events can sometimes be uncomfortable, and thanking everyone for supporting the arts since, "people like us aren't good at anything else."

They were so sincere, that we want to believe Tegan & Sara came to their shiny new adult contemporary sound organically. But it doesn't really matter whether they like what they're making now, or whether they created it as a cynical cash grab.

All that matters is that they return to making music that can match the quirkiness of their stage patter.

Photo by Ian Witlen

Critic's Notebook

Tegan & Sara's Setlist:

-"Drove Me Wild"

-"Goodbye, Goodbye"

-"Back In Your Head"

-"I Couldn't Be Your Friend"

-"I Was a Fool"

-"Now I'm All Messed Up"

-"Shock to Your System"

-"How Come You Don't Want Me"

-"Feel It in My Bones"


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David Rolland is a freelance writer for New Times Broward-Palm Beach and Miami New Times. His novel, The End of the Century, published by Jitney Books, is available at many fine booksellers.
Contact: David Rolland