For those who aren’t members of Tegan and Sara’s ardent fanbase, seeing the Canadian identical twins perform is a perplexing experience. At the Troxy both had similar dark clothes and the same bobbed hairstyles. Even their fringes sloped in the same direction. Sometimes Tegan – or was it Sara? – sang a song, other times it was Sara. Or maybe it was Tegan.
But after a while you began to notice distinguishing features. Tegan’s hand gestures when she sang were more expressive. Sara’s voice was sharper. Tegan, the older by eight minutes, did most of the droll between-song chat, big sibling-style. Meanwhile Sara glared at her and silently added to the store of resentments dating back to those cramped months in the womb 32 years ago.
OK, that last bit’s not strictly true. The Quin sisters are actually a model of harmonious twinship. Since 1999 they’ve released seven albums together, the latest being this year’s Heartthrob. That’s more than Luke and Matt Goss of Bros managed, and a lot more – I’ll put my neck on the line here – than Jedward are likely to rack up.
It’s the Bros comparison that comes to mind on Heartthrob. Having made their name with coffee shop-friendly indie-folk, the twins have made a sudden swerve into brightly-hued 1980s pop. The result is their most successful record yet, a top-three hit in the US.
Backed by a four-strong backing band, they opened with a suite of new songs, bittersweet tales of romance that bustled by with big synths, chugging guitars and “woh-oh” chants. The album’s colourful studio textures didn’t translate entirely successfully: the sound was a bit muddy and the pair’s voices were thinner than on record. But the vibrancy was undeniable, a marked shift from older material, which made an entrance in tonight’s set with the twee piano-pop of “Back in Your Head”.
Lyrics were mainly about relationships; the object of desire was female. Tegan and Sara are both gay, a fact they express with a breeziness that masks a deeper boldness. That boldness has brought them a fervent cult following – “Call It Off” was sung almost entirely by fans – but it has taken until Heartthrob for it to register musically. “Closer”, the last song before the encore, found the identical twins chorusing “I won’t treat you like you’re oh so typical” over a knockout 1980s tune – a declaration of difference neatly embedded in shiny mainstream pop.