Live Review, 7/2/2012: Mates of State Induce Mass Swooning at the Independent

Categories: Last Night

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Mates of State
The Stepkids
July 2, 2012
The Independent

Better than: Most pop music released in 2012 so far.

Mates of State pour unconquerable energy into each performance -- a kind of energy that does not seem likely to last. And yet, after almost 15 years together, there were Kori Gardner and Jason Hammel last night, giving a show that was as jacked up on youthful drive and optimism as any before it. Opening with an ecstatic rendition of "For the Actor," the band wrapped the room in an affectionate, eletrocharged blanket. And this was no sedate Monday night audience -- the floor was packed, buzzing with adoring fans.

I doubt anyone walked away disappointed by last night's show. The band delivered warm familiarity and real passion through a solid set of signature songs that inject new energy into timeworn ideas about the thrilling unpredictability of love and the future.

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The band sampled from the entirety of its catalog, taking care to include a couple of down-tempo songs in the otherwise upbeat set. Gardner and Hammel displayed finely-tuned musicianship and vocal harmony, joined by two backing musicians on guitar, trumpet, and additional synth. The duo is so tight and on-point in terms of both composition and performance, it's always made me wonder what else they are capable of. Mates of State has such a specific sound, however, that I suspect Gardner and Hammel would have to start a new band if they really ever wanted to stretch out musically.

Still, their work is carefully sculpted and polished, and their live performances reflect that -- which is not to say that they are necessarily predictable. Live versions of their songs make room for additional breaks and instrumentation -- as well as the considerable display of physical energy that piles additional infectiousness onto songs we may have heard several dozen times. That physical energy also helps explain the band's shortish sets (90 minutes, including encores, seems to be the norm at Mates of State shows).

Last night's opener was The Stepkids, a Connecticut-based trio that turned the room into Andy Warhol's Factory for 40 minutes. Their sound is based in '60s rock and R&B, laced with heavy doses of psychedelia. Animated projections were thrown over the stage as they performed in all-white outfits. The visuals were the most obvious nod to the party culture of The Factory, but none of it felt like a gimmick. The Stepkids have a sound that combines stuff from a bunch of different eras -- funk, folk-rock, and grindhouse soundtracks -- into a new, cohesive whole.

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Critic's Notebook

Solo highlight: Last night's wait staff at the Independent consisted of one girl (seen above, at left, with glowing tray) who covered the whole venue on a nonstop circuit, tray held aloft without ever skipping a beat or dropping a drink, making incredibly fast one-handed change and doing it all with a pleasant demeanor -- an impressive performance in its own right.

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