Mates Of State / April 12, 2006 / New York (Bowery Ballroom)
What's wrong with a Mates Of State show? It's not their expertise. Keyboardist Kori Gardner and drummer Jason Hammel know how to hold down their own territory, despite the fact they sing in rounds, thWhat's wrong with a Mates Of State show? It's not their expertise. Keyboardist Kori Gardner and drummer Jason Hammel know how to hold down their own territory, despite the fact they sing in rounds, the keyboard riffs come rapid fire and drummers are often too locked in their drumming world to eek out a decent note.
Opening with "Think Long," the first track from their newest "Bring It Back," the husband/wife duo's pure, warm voices rang hard against and with each other. Even when fulfilling a request for "Beehive State," which they apparently hadn't performed live for years, they were able to pluck out their parts and deliver within a matter of seconds. While the vocal melodies are elementary enough and rhythm-based, drummer Jason Hammel can hold his own against Gardner's powerful pipes. Gardner was able to pick out consistently interesting and technically difficult patterns on organ and piano and maintain a hearty bass sound all the while.
It's not their songs. "Bring It Back" is as good an album as any they've released, their mid-tempo pop numbers packed with hooks and climaxes, alternating between perky and sad. Songs like "La'hov," "Ha Ha" and "So Many Ways" were perfect examples as to why their formula works: after trading verses, their voices meet in unison at the end, repeat the most significant line a few times for good measure and end with a crash. The arrangements are solid and witnessing the parts coming together live is like revelation.
It's not their chemistry. Gardner and Hammel are well-rehearsed and professional on stage. There are no awkward pauses at a Mates Of State show. Gardner controls the stage and Hammel supports with strength. Their stylistic agreeance is practically machine-like, with each sounding as though they’re doing their best impression of the other. "For the Actor" was like watching children on a teeter-totter, with each instrument and voice getting its time in the sun.
It's wasn't the sound system. Their openers (Say Hi To Your Mom, Hail Social) rocked. Their downers chased their uppers, they both looked fabulous and they started (nearly) on time.
So, what's wrong with a Mates Of State show? For "Punchlines," their second encore/last song, Gardner leaked a rare smile. Hammel nearly jumped out of his seat thrashing the cymbals. The two dug their collective heels in for a big finish, all four knees pumping, the rounds ascending to roars. They looked proud and grateful that this was their job. For a band that can punch out indomitable songs, Mates Of State are best when it seems they've lost control.