Photos by Daniela Tantalo

There was a time when corporate sponsorships, events and the like were seen as tacky, unbecoming of true artists and musicians. You’d be labeled a sellout and the purists among your fan base would likely disown you, diehards may cringe at your commercial endorsements and your credibility would take a hit, but that mentality has largely faded.

Enter the Hilton Concert Series, a reward for Hilton HHonors members in its second season, and a performance Tegan and Sara alongside JR JR (formerly Dale Earnhardt Jr. Jr.). The concert held in the basement conference rooms of the Toronto Hilton felt intimate, like a rare small venue performance by one of pop’s hottest acts. If you ignore the open bar, dj, faux red carpet perfect for the obligatory selfie, free munchies and souvenir lanyards around everyone’s necks. Then again free booze so who are we to judge.

Opening the night were JR JR, the Detroit indie-pop outfit, got an increasingly boisterous crowd pumped. Their charming, energetic pop put everyone in the right mood building in the anticipation for Tegan and Sara. Though some of the band’s commentary felt somewhat aggressive towards the crowd’s fitful attention spans… again, open bar.

Ushered onto Hilton’s small stage was not the Tegan and Sara of yesteryears. No guitars, electric or acoustic, or substantial backing band were present, instead a sleeker and leaner T&S took the stage armed with only percussion and keys. Kicking off the night with the duo’s lead single “Boyfriend,” from their lastest album Love You To Death, had the audience singing along, though the entire night for many fans was a sing-a-long.

Much of the set focused on more recent material from their breakthrough album, Heartthrob and latest LP, Love You To Death. Performing their hit single “Closer” to the bright pop of “U Turn” to the deep cut ballad “I Was Your Fool.” Elsewhere the twins compensated for the absence of guitars and the live band feel of older catalogue classics like “Walking With A Ghost,” “Living Room,” and “Back In Your Head” with fresh twists of edgy synth and deeper bass lines.

The Quinn sisters’ dry wit and anecdotal humour were, as always, in peak form. Playful sibling banter, mocking self-awareness when thanking Hilton Hotels to Sara giving young fans upfront a good ribbing about when phones didn’t have FaceTime or data plans. It was what Tegan and Sara do best, keeping things colourful and light.

Their surroundings may have changed from small concert halls to wide popularity like being curated as part of Hilton’s intimate concert series but regardless of their sleeker sound or choice of venue, not much has really changed. Tegan and Sara remain entertaining and fun relying less on flash – they let Hilton Hotels take care of that, thank you Hilton Hotels – and more on their personality and rich catalogue of pop songs to engage fans.