SAN DIEGO, CA- Let’s get this right out of the way: my high school years sucked. As a chubby nerd obsessed with cartoons, video games, and the Star Wars prequels (…and not exactly shy about my passion for any of those things) there wasn’t much that endeared me to Greater Orange County’s adolescent elite.

For kids alive today and living through the post geek singularity (with a tip of the hat to filmmaker Robert Meyer Burnett for coining that phrase) it may come as a shock to learn that there was a time when liking video games and anime was not only considered uncool but also grounds for being labeled a complete and total pariah. That time was known as… The 90’s.

Times were tough, yes, but your humble writer pulled through and made it out the other end no worse for wear… mostly. Like most who lacked any social standing during those teenage years, I fell back on the one constant that has always shined a light in the darkest recesses and lead a path towards a brighter future: music. R.E.M., Talking Heads, Kate Bush… sure, I was listening to another generation’s music, but this was the music that spoke to me. It got me through those horrible years and lent me confidence and self-assuredness that I so desperately needed. As important as those artists were and still are to me, there is something special about hearing someone your own age speak to you through song and got I that in Tegan and Sara.

I discovered Tegan and Sara in my early 20’s after the death of my grandfather. “Walking With a Ghost” got heavy airplay at the time and I was instantly hooked. My first reaction upon hearing it was: This is what I’ve been looking for, this is what I needed to hear at just the right moment. I think my only regret about discovering them in my 20’s is that I didn’t have the music of Tegan and Sara to get me through high school.

Rarely do artists revisit their own past with much reverence, much less empathy for a time filled with transgressions, mistakes and the occasional self-righteousness that seems to typify most of our youthful indiscretions. You can imagine my surprise then when Tegan and Sara announced their latest projects to be not only a new album based on songs they had written as teenagers, the aptly named “Hey I’m Just Like You,” but also a memoir about their formative years called High School.

In keeping with the retro 90’s aesthetic, Tegan and Sara present to their fans a multimedia (remember that word?) extravaganza with the sole intent to look back at their high school days and look back they did as their “Hey I’m Just Like You Tour” stopped at San Diego’s historic Balboa Theater on Monday night, September 30.

Tegan and Sara’s career has been defined by songs that wear their hearts on their sleeves but they’ve also been marked by a creative restlessness that has taken them from the ranks angry young punks to becoming full-fledged polished pop stars and this latest endeavor is yet another reinvention of who they are and what they can be.

Always one step ahead of expectations, the Quins are not in the habit of providing their audience with what they want but rather giving them what they need. Here on their latest tour, we find the sister songwriters in what is likely their most revealing concert effort yet, performing on stage with no backing band and supporting only each other as they ran through selections from their recently released long-player as well as tracks from nearly all of their previous albums.

This production was so bare in fact that at one-point Tegan self-deprecatingly reassured fans that they would return to a more traditional setup again in the future, but I couldn’t help but ask myself: why should they? A live performance should be a snapshot of a moment in time: a portrait of the artists as they are now. Why not up-end their own status quo by presenting re-worked and re-contextualized versions of tried and true classics?

This alone-together arrangement will likely be familiar to their most diehard of fans from their earliest days and those who witnessed them on their Con X Tour in 2017. What made this night especially intimate were the between-song interludes in the form of vintage VHS footage of the ladies as kids, just on the cusp of doing something extraordinary as well as readings from their memoir.

Watching and hearing the twins Quin recount stories from their time coming up in the 1990s, I was comforted to see some of the same touchstones that littered my own life during that time but ultimately I found myself drawn in by the experiences we didn’t share, namely their experience growing up as gay women.

Tegan and Sara have never shied away from their sexuality in their work, but I was surprised by how frankly it was discussed on Monday night. Signs posted throughout the venue stated this theater to be a safe space for all. I had no idea how safe a space was being created until Sara, reading from her book, recalled her earliest moments of intimacy with a classmate while in high school. I couldn’t help but be awed by her unflinching fearlessness as she went into detail about the moment: the flood of emotions that raced through her mind and her physical reaction to the realization that she was attracted to women. It was almost surreal to learn something so deep and personal about an artist whose work I’ve followed for years.

The tours for the duo’s previous two efforts, “Heartthrob” and “Love You To Death,” have drawn in many new fans, which, given the more heavily produced, pop-oriented sound on those albums, was likely the idea. With the “Hey, I’m Just Like You Tour,” the Quins have developed a show that seems tailor-made not just for longtime fans but for those in the audience for whom Tegan and Sara not only spoke to but have spoken for over the years.

Given the stripped-down nature of the performance coupled with the two reading passages from their book while home footage from their teenage years played on a screen behind them, the mood struck this night wasn’t unlike that of a sleepover. There was a feeling that we were in their bedrooms all those years ago, hearing them tells us their deepest thoughts while trying out a song or two they wrote the other day.

Seated in the Balboa Theater, a thought occurred to me: I’ve been going to Tegan and Sara concerts for the past twelve years and still vividly remember my first time seeing the band. It was at the Orpheum in LA during The Con tour and the thing that struck me at that time was hear I was amongst a crowd of fans right around my own age at the time seeing a band that was also around our own ages. It was profound. But as the years went on, I noticed something happening around me. To paraphrase a line from Dazed and Confused, I got older, but the fans stayed the same age.

This is the remarkable power these two women have. It’s no small feat to be able to reach out to young people and speak to them through art but Tegan and Sara have done it and continue to do it. This is no nostalgia act, but a real and immediate connection formed through shared experiences and an innate ability, on the parts of Tegan and Sara, to craft undeniably catchy songs.

As the evening drew to a close, Sara recalled the moment when, after having signed to a label right out of high school, she and her sister decided to buzz their hair. After getting a look at the two, their aunt remarked, “You look like yourselves.”

In the midst of a career that has crossed genres and defied expectations, by reflexively looking back and mining an album of new material from their past while realizing it with all the experience a 20-year career in music can engender, it can be said now that Tegan and Sara sound like themselves too.

Follow Tegan and Sara on Facebook, Twitterand Instagram.


Tegan and Sara. Photo by Trevor Brady. Courtesy of Warner Records. Used with permission.
Tegan and Sara. Photo by Trevor Brady. Courtesy of Warner Records. Used with permission.