Tegan and Sara riff on life, love

By Jonathan Perry
Globe Correspondent / February 15, 2010

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Given Tegan and Sara Quin’s penchant for gabbing to their audience about all manner of things - Sara’s unfulfilled R&B dreams; Tegan’s chapped lips; the twin sisters’ Springsteen-worshiping stepfather (who, if we are to believe the tale, was also named Bruce) - it’s a wonder any actual music got made at the Orpheum Theatre Saturday night.

And yet, not only did it get made during an otherwise briskly paced two-hour, 25-song set spiked with a clutch of fast, fizzy, fan favorites, but much of the music was as sharply focused as the duo’s lovably effusive anecdotes were not. “Thank you for putting up with our awkwardness,’’ Tegan said from the stage before the backing band of Ted Gowens (guitar, keys), Shaun Huberts (bass), and Johnny Andrews (drums), who had departed after the regular set, rejoined the sisters for a cheerfully brazen reading of the encore-closer, “Living Room.’’

We shouldn’t be surprised, really. Six albums and twice as many years into their professional partnership, Tegan and Sara know exactly how to chart a concert course that manages the neat trick of melding expansiveness and efficiency; spontaneity and strategy. On Saturday, they made a point of connecting to (and with) an already fiercely loyal audience, and in doing so, further connected the audience (and themselves) to songs built around themes of emotional isolation.

“The Ocean,’’ a frosty admonition to a lover built on a snappy drum beat and a quick-stepping guitar riff, got the evening off to a sparkling start. Rueful regret, it seemed, need not be a total bummer, at least not in melody. The tune, lead-sung by Tegan (who possessed the more plaintive, if slightly less distinctive, voice of the twosome), was the first of six selections (and 10 overall) the sisters quickly reeled off from “Sainthood,’’ their latest album of sweet-and-sour treats. “On Directing,’’ another excellent new song - this one sung by Sara - followed hot on its heels with vintage New Wave flair and a trace of the ghost of early Liz Phair.

Speaking of apparitions, a diabolically fetching “Walking With a Ghost’’ (strategically placed smack-dab in the middle of the regular set) provided a vivid example of what Tegan and Sara did best, again and again: take a crisp electric guitar riff; add close, cross-hatching harmony vocals; and for good measure, lace squiggly synth lines over a spare but driving backbeat, like veins over sinew. In its way, the song was like a musical version of the “less is more’’ principle - but, in Tegan and Sara’s case, applied expertly, and as often as possible.

With: Holly Miranda and Steel Train
At: the Orpheum Theatre, Saturday