Mates of State | 09.27.06

The Mates' songs revel in the unexpected—the beats change, the harmonies shift, and they end up somewhere that sounds very different from where they started.


w/The Starlight Mints
State Theatre, Falls Church, Va.

Gloria Estefan was right—at some point, "the rhythm is going to get you." Never was this reality better translated than with the young couple dancing in front of me at the Mates of State show on Wednesday night, dancing as though they had been in restraints all their lives, were only being allowed to use their legs and arms for the first time, and the physical release of that moment encouraged them to move their bodies in the most elegant lack of coordination ever witnessed-that, and it was the last day on Earth. If anything, it was true love.

Romantic love—especially the saccharine, overly visible, fuzzy bunnies kind—generally makes me feel awkward and visibly uncomfortable. Upon seeing it, I've been known to make a face. I say this to preface admitting just how warm and fuzzy the Mates of State make me feel. To deny the element of the relationship between Kori Gardner and Jason Hammel as being an essential component of the Mates' songwriting and live performance would be absurd, but its success hinges on how genuine and unyucky their relationship is as musicians that have the utmost respect for one another.

Before true love, though, there was Pervez Musharraf. Yes, Pervez Musharraf, the President of Pakistan and recent visitor to Washington D.C., made this writer late for the evening's openers, the Oklahoman power-popping Starlight Mints—or maybe it was just his motorcade (there's no blaming Hamid Karzai for this, Musharraf). Either way, upon reaching the concert, the Starlight Mints were well into their set, and I was a tad perturbed. The Starlight Mints, on the other hand, were in fine form. Backed by four Dan Flavin-esque vertical fluorescent light bulbs alternating all the colors of the rainbow, "Rosemarie," with its Beatles bounce, and the retro-guitars of "Eyes of the Night"—both offerings from the band's latest album Drowaton—demonstrated the strong melodies and unpretentious demeanor of a band wholly comfortable with itself.

When the Mates were last in town, Gardner was suffering from a sore throat and nursing her vocals with tea during breaks between songs, but this time she was in top form. While "Fraud in the '80s" and "For the Actor" encouraged the Will Ferrell look-alike in front of me and his girlfriend to wriggle as though there were other smaller human beings trapped inside their bodies, "Like U Crazy"—with a surprise interlude of Gnarls Barkley's own exploration of insanity—stood out as an ideal showcase for what Mates can bring to a song. Gardner's vocals went to a breathier place as Hammel's drums found jazz, making the Gnarls song sound their own. The Mates' songs revel in the unexpected—the beats change, the harmonies shift, and they end up somewhere that sounds very different from where they started.

Whether delving into their back catalog for "Ha Ha" or playing a selection from this year's Bring It Back, the Mates want you to share in their joy. With all of this, I couldn't help looking at the couple in front of me and feeling happy that through the motorcades and insidious ambition of D.C. they had found each other. Unlike Mates of State, though, I don't think that I would want to see them more than once.

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