A night with Mates

I’ve just finished my graduate paper for this week. It’s been a relaxing, but extremely productive day. Now as I wind down for the night I can finally get to more pressing issues …

Reflecting on last night. Dreams came true … 

It started with a Paste magazine sampler sometime in 2006. I fell madly in love with “Fraud in the ‘80s.” I wanted more and downloaded their entire catalogue up to that point. I grew more fond of them when I learned they got their start in Lawrence, Kan. Then, I saw them backing Feist, on what is arguably my favorite musical performance of all-time on the “Late Show With David Letterman.” Then, I got hooked on Kori’s blog. Then, I bought “Re-Arrange Us.” And “Crushes.”

Yes, Mates of State were near the top of my list of bands to see live for a long time. When I bought my ticket in August, I could only hope and pray nothing blocked me from making the trip.

On this night, everything fell into place -- even amid a mini-crisis at the university in the morning. … I retreated from my office shortly from 5 and joined Kates and Phoebe for dinner (Chicken pasta!). Shortly after 7, and after filling the Little Green Machine with some gas, I was cruising toward Kansas City.

We’re approaching the two-year mark of this “adventure,” and -- Kates and I have said this a lot during the last year -- it still blows my mind to think that we’re living in the Kansas City area. The Milwaukee-Chicago corridor was so ingrained in our lifestyle for seven years that so many scenes and experiences in this new life strike us as surreal. Driving down Highway 169 and crossing the Missouri River over the Broadway Bridge, lit up in red, with the Kansas City skyline illuminated in front of me -- and Mates of State’s “Technicolor Girls” playing on my iPod -- was one of those moments …

Another “moment” occurred when I pulled up to the venue, the Record Bar. It was in a strip mall with an Ace Hardware, a Dollar Tree and a used book store, among other small shops. This was clearly a long way from the Chicago Theater, Turner Hall or The Rave. For a couple minutes I started to wonder, after driving two hours, what I’d gotten myself into.

The anxiety didn’t last long. I joined the line of people waiting to get inside and was pleased to see the crowd was mostly young adults. I got the feeling most of them were serious music fans, too. That was confirmed when the girl behind me started talking to her female companion about seeing a recent show in California and purchasing tickets for the next edition of Bonnaroo. Serious.

The Record Bar was indeed a bar, with a small stage set up in a corner. The whole room wasn’t much larger than our living room, and I knew then I could be in for something special. It was amazingly intimate. … I took a position just off the stage left corner. Just before Mates of State went on, I glanced behind me and there was Kori Gardner, just a step away and chatting with someone in a doorway. I was so close to the stage I could have reached out and tapped Jason Hammel’s drum if I wanted.

The New Orleans-based Generationals opened. I’d never heard of them, but I was impressed enough by their sound that I plan to search for more of their stuff. They played for about 40 minutes and must have buzzed through nearly a dozen songs during that time. To me, their sound reminded me a lot of Foster the People’s “Pumped up Kicks” with its reverb and groovy hooks. I liked it.

Mates of State took the stage at 11, and the crowd had grown thick. … As the band members set up, there was a charming moment when “Break My Stride” played on the bar stereo and Kori broke into a dance.

Moments later, they broke into “Get Better.” And it was good. So good

They moved seamlessly from song to song, playing a healthy dose of fan favorites spanning their entire catalogue. About half of their set consisted of songs from recent albums -- “Re-Arrange Us” and “Mountaintops,” which I downloaded just a couple weeks ago and it was love at first listen. But they also pulled out some oldies I’d lost track of, including 2000’s “Proofs,” which drew a good cheer from the crowd, and when they burst out with that opening line "It hardly matters!" -- so great. Hearing some of that old stuff again had me gaining a newfound appreciation for it; I refreshed my iPod tonight, giving new life to those songs that were buried in my music library.

About midway through, they asked the crowd, “Old or new?” “ ‘Like U Crazy’ or ‘Parachutes’?” They took a crowd vote by a show of hands, and “Like U Crazy” -- to my pleasure -- got the win. They never did play “Parachutes.”

Looking back now, it’s hard to pick a favorite from the night. I would have liked to hear “Fraud in the ‘80s,” but in the end it didn’t matter. All of the music sounded so good and fresh. There were moments I thought to myself, I can’t believe I’m actually here and seeing this!

The only downfall of the night, seeing them in a small venue: The music was loud. And my ears are paying for it today.

Nevertheless, Hammel makes playing the drums look so effortless, and watching Gardner shuffle her feet and jump around at her keyboards kept me smiling. Their already uptempo music had even more energy in its live forms.

Further, they're the kind of a couple that, in another life, I'd like to think could be some good friends. They don’t take themselves too seriously. Their cheerfulness is infectious, they have a remarkable chemistry. Every album is better than the one that precedes it. . They appear to be having loads of fun, and a band that does all of that will get me every time.

I'm reminded of a brilliant Mates of State bio I first read a few years ago that described their "cute" factor.

Another bio takes it a step further ...
It's “pure pop for adults who haven't quite grasped that they're adults yet.” And while it's certainly pop, it's pop in the same sense that the Beach Boys and the Beatles but also the New Pornographers and of Montreal are pop – they're stretching the limits of what the term means, of how to make music that is just as interesting as it is accessible.

Yep. The Beatles and The Beach Boys were the musical benchmarks for my childhood years, and Ben Folds Five and Toad the Wet Sprocket set the musical benchmark for my adolescent and college years. Now, it's Mates of State, Guster, the New Pornographers, The Weepies and Ingrid Michaelson doing it for me as an adult.

Today, I took a vacation day from work to recover and accomplish some things around the house. I’ve had Mates of State going on the iPod all day, and they’ll be playing for the foreseeable future. I'm enthralled with their music.

So here's a highlight video I made. As usual when I try these types of things, the sound quality sucks. But at least it gives you a good feel of the scene and vibe. And if you're a fan, it may be fun to just hear these snippets.

Here’s last night’s set list (links to official music videos/album versions)…
1. Get Better
2. Maracas
3. For the Actor
4. Unless I’m Led
5. The Re-Arranger
6. Think Long
7. You are Free
8. Sway
9. Goods
10. Ha Ha
11. Whiner’s Bio
12. Like U Crazy
13. Basement Money
14. Now
15. True Love Will Find You In The End
16. My Only Offer
17. Proofs
18. Palomino

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