Kori Gardner and Jason Hammel may not be household names, but as Mates of State, this husband-and-wife indie duo span sounds and genres, delivering their pop tunes to any open-eared listener. The couple has spent the past 12 years working nonstop, creating some of the most unique and fun music of their generation.
Their newest record, last year’s Mountaintops (Barsuk), earned the band some pretty high mainstream praise. With two tracks appearing in television commercials, three tracks being featured in different television shows, and even a spot on Letterman, which helped propel sales and secure the band as a successful, high-profile indie-rock outfit. The soaring melodies and frenetic shifts of the album got me to fantasize about what their new live show would be like. Luckily, I was able to witness the live reinvention of their sound at a sold out (Le) Poisson Rouge.
The stage was decorated with pulsing LED lights, as new touring members trumpeter/keyboardist John Panos and master guitarist Shinagawa welcomed the crowd with some independent sounds. Everyone when crazy when they were soon joined by Gardner and Hammel. The performers welcomed the audience into their forest of sound with the “For the Actor”, the easily recognizable single from 2006’s Bring It Back. It quickly became a sing-along as the quartet hit all the best moments of their expansive discography. I am no stranger to Mates of State shows, and I must say, these shows were the best I’ve ever heard the band sound. It was as if all the planets aligned to gateway two hours of the sweetest, catchiest, love riddled songs you could ever imagine.
The crowd rejoiced to songs like “Whiners Bio” and “HAHA” and cooled down on slower songs like “An Experiment” and “Goods”, welcoming the new and old equally. You could feel the spirits of the venue lift as everyone watched Gardner and Hammel maintain unbreakable eye contact, screaming into each other’s love-stretched faces. After testing a few unreleased songs, Mates broke into “Palomino”, the lead single off Mountaintops. Mashing the song’s ending with Whitney Houston’s “How Will I Know”, the band and crowd alike were sent reeling in memory of the late pop star. The pop throwback then devolved into an all out jam, a rarity for Mates of State.
This newfound experimentalism capped their fantastic set, but the fans weren’t ready to go home. With a sold out room chanting their namesake, Mates of State returned for an encore. Ending the night with “Proofs”, their beloved debut single, the crowd and performers screamed together, beaming. “Let’s unravel the edge of time, where proofs and postulations lie.”
In total the love-struck duo that spent the past 12 years of their career releasing 7 LPs, which branched its way into a distinctive array of upbeat organ-thick pop songs heard in major motion pictures and television commercials worldwide, had my heart and head on lock. My love for them is based upon their quirky song structures composed of dual harmonies and counterpart vocals, and their manner of captivating each other as well as the audience.
Mountaintops marked another change in the band. By welcoming two more performers on stage, shows breathed with new life. Despite seeing Mates of State literally dozens of times, this past performance proved that a band can still surprise you after years of loyalty. The feeling of reinvention was rich that night, which unified the performers and audience in amazing ways.