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Sara Foss's Thinking It Through
by Sara Foss

Thinking It Through

A Daily Gazette life blog
Her column and blog rolled into one

Catching Tegan and Sara, and Sean Rowe

A couple of weeks ago I wrote about the Passion Pit concert at RPI Fieldhouse. Overall, I thought it was pretty good, but it wasn’t exactly the experience I was looking for. Basically, I wanted them to play super-catchy 80s synth-pop that made you want to dance through their entire set. They did a little bit of this, but a lot of their music was more dreamy than anything — it made you nod your head and tap your feet, but not necessarily dance.

Anyway, the Canadian twin sisters Tegan and Sara rolled into the Upstate Concert Hall last week, and they provided exactly the experience I wanted (and expected) from Passion Pit. In fact, I’d say that they do super-catchy 80s synth-pop even better than Passion Pit. Of course, it didn’t hurt that they opened with my favorite Tegan and Sara song, “Back In Your Head,” off their fantastic 2007 album, “The Con.”

“The Con” is a dark album, filled with lyrics about grief and heartbreak, but the songs on it pulse with energy and life, and are impossible to get out of your head. I don’t have Tegan and Sara’s 2009 album, “Sainthood,” and can’t really speak to its virtues, but I can report that their new album, “Heartthrob,” finds the twins in a very happy place. The songs on this album are designed to make you feel like dancing. They recall what made 80s synth-pop appealing in the first place. I don’t know why they’re not mentioned in the same breath as other contemporary rock bands, such as M83, that specialize in 80s-style synth-pop (perhaps because they are young gay women, rather than heterosexual young men?), but they should be. Because Tegan and Sara are better than most of those bands.

I don’t own “Heartthrob,” but I will be acquiring it very soon. Every song Tegan and Sara played from the album sounded awesome — this wasn’t one of those concerts that made me feel a little sad because the band didn’t play the older hits that I’m more familiar with. No, this was a concert that made me feel like I was watching a band on the rise, and that I need to get their album and play it constantly.

I also caught local singer-songwriter Sean Rowe at Caffe Lena on Saturday. It was a solo performance, just him and his guitar, and he was riveting — an engaging stage presence, who played a mix of songs off his new album, “The Salesman and the Shark,” as well as older material and an excellent mix of covers. I met Rowe after the show, and I had to stop myself from saying, “Hey, great choice of covers,” because that seemed like the wrong thing to say to a singer-songwriter who specializes in original material. But his covers really were great — the Violent Femmes’ “Gone Daddy Gone” (one of my favorite songs, by one of my favorite bands), R.L. Burnside’s “Goin’ Down South,” a song by the recently rediscovered ’60s folk singer Sixto Rodriguez (subject of the Oscar winning documentary “Searching for Sugar Man.”)

However, Rowe’s originals were just as good — an excellent showcase for Rowe’s literate and descriptive songwriting, and his distinctive and soulful baritone. One thing I didn’t realize, despite owning both “Magic” and “The Salesman and the Shark,” is what a good guitar player Rowe is — I’ve seen him before, but the local band Railbird was serving as his band. Anyway, playing solo offered Rowe a chance to show off his virtuosity on the guitar, and he was really very impressive.

If you ever have the chance to see him solo (which you will, because he lives in the Capital Region), you should. He and Railbird will be appearing on Jimmy Kimmel Live next Monday, so you can definitely check him out then. But it’s hard for me to believe that a televised appearance could possibly compare to seeing him in the intimate confines of Caffe Lena.

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