When Tegan and Sara first embarked on their musical career in the late 1990s, they were a folk-pop act rooted in acoustic guitars and vocal harmonies – even their name hearkens back to groups like Simon and Garfunkel or Crosby, Stills & Nash. They inverted the formula of those band names to use their first names instead of last, which was a practicality brought about by the fact that the two women are identical twins, but one that also suggests a more intimate relationship with their audience, as if we’re all on a first-name basis together. Their concerts felt similarly cozy, as if listeners were invited into their homes and got to know them as people as much as performers.

They came to the State Theatre in Portland fully immersed in a significantly different second act of their careers, performing a concert that more resembled Eric B. and Rakim than Simon and Garfunkel. The bass boomed thunderously, and the two women stomped about the stage, holding microphones in one hand and gesticulating with the other, occasionally stopping to play a few lines on their synthesizers. The music was dazzling and infectious, fueled by a powerful thump and washed over with a glamorous veneer of melodic hooks.

At the core, however, it feels the same. Tegan and Sara have developed a unique, engaging songwriting voice that marries earnest sentiment and a fresh perspective to enormous hooks. They can transform a line like “what you are is lonely” into an anthem, as if highlighting the bravery and empathy in admitting that simple statement with a neon marker and turning its inherent sadness inside-out. There’s an optimism to it that gleams, particularly in a live setting. The crowd was rich with members of the LGBTQ community – in large part because Tegan and Sara are both outspoken gay artists and activists themselves – who were extremely receptive and deafening at times.

What is particularly remarkable about their careers is that they’re doing their best and most current-feeling work nearly 20 years after their debut album, a time when most artists are milking that anniversary-reissue money. They showed off their muscles with a late stretch of outsized songs from their last two records, including “Closer,” “Boyfriend,” “U-Turn” and “Stop Desire.” They sprinkled in a moody take on their 2004 song “Walking With the Ghost,” which was something of a breakthrough song for them (partially thanks to a White Stripes cover) and comes and goes from their current setlists.

Despite the vitality of their newer records, they’re not immune to the anniversary syndrome. They’re currently planning to tour behind a revisit of “The Con,” their well-loved 2007 album that, to loosely judge by the ages of the crowd, was many people’s introduction to the band. They performed a small suite of songs from that record, briefly abandoning the synthesizers for acoustic guitar, and it had the effect of shrinking the room.

Whether playing folk or disco, they still give off a down-to-earth, personalized vibe. Their stage banter bears the overlapping familiarity unique to identical twins, along with the stage presence of born performers. They are able to easily extend their affection for each other out to the audience, making their listeners feel like they’re both part of a party and part of a family.

Robert Ker is a freelance writer who lives in Portland.

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