Tegan and Sara plus Steel Train and Holly Miranda
8 p.m. Wed., Feb. 24
Tipitina's, 501 Napoleon Ave., 895-8477; www.tipitinas.com
A wild-eyed woman sprints through the streets of Manhattan, barking guitar-pop hooks in the faces of bewildered passersby. The song is "Hell," the first single off Canadian sister act Tegan and Sara's sixth album, Sainthood (Sire), but the brash singer is not Tegan or Sara Quin. It's Amanda Palmer, former Dresden Doll, who got her hands on 2007 breakout The Con and became a friend and unabashed fan of the Canadian twins.
"We were really charmed by that," says Sara of the tribute video. "She's so brave and confident in this way that I am not. I spend a lot of time in New York, and sometimes just walking down the street to get a doughnut or drop off my dry cleaning is intimidating. Running through the streets, singing with people and videotaping yourself doing this, it's so beyond my comfort level."
Of all the things that draw people to Tegan and Sara's music — a mechanized rhythmic engine and maniacally catchy melodies chief among them — confidence, Sara says, is not high on the list. "Tegan and I are sort of apologetically who we are. We really do apologize constantly. It's sort of a problem.
"It's been this thing we've struggled with, but I also think it's what's made us approachable. When people like us, they don't casually like us; they sort of love us. Of course, the flip side is that when people don't like you, it seems like it's a really intense dislike. It can be the smallest criticism, but we'll just obsess over it: 'Oh God, what did we do and how can we change it?'
"It's so terrible," she says, laughing. "I think we're getting better."
Obsession fuels both The Con, a painstakingly detailed, in-the-moment breakup record, and Sainthood, which addresses many of the same relationship issues from the other side of the emotional divide. The more spontaneous sound is a result of a stripped-down, "live" approach to recording — "We worked the music out in a very traditional sort of band way," Sara says — but it stemmed from a collaborative writing process the pair undertook midway between their temporary bases of Los Angeles and New York.
That neutral ground happened to be New Orleans. "A lot of the album was written the way we wrote The Con, Tegan and I both taking a lot of time to write the songs independently, then sending them back and forth," Sara says. "I said, 'I still feel like we have some writing to do. Would you be interested in meeting somewhere in between?' ... I had this inspiration to sit in a room and write together and see what would happen."
Thus, for a week in October 2008, they holed up in a Magazine Street practice space and worked out songs together. Incidentally, Sara says, only one collaborative track, "Paperback Head," ended up making the record; the title track, which references lyrics from Leonard Cohen, was held out after licensing fell through. But the experience did inspire the final volume of a documentary book series, ON, IN, AT, and informed the album with its central metaphor: the pursuit of sainthood in love as an unattainable ideal.
"New Orleans set this tone for Tegan and I," Sara says. "It really gave a shape to what the record was going to be. I think the songs we wrote are cool, and I'm sure we'll release them in some form at some point. It was a really important trip."