When they hit the first snare at the first Mates of State show I ever saw, it was as if the Amazing Kreskin had smacked a gong and the crowd had been forced by a purposefully implanted but subconscious impulse to dance wickedly for an hour. The room grew as hot and smelly as a mushroom greenhouse, but we were powerless to leave. I did all of my terrible moves. I did the robot. I was ashamed. I could not help myself.
Mates of State is a couple (Kori Gardner on keyboards and Jason Hammel on drums) duking out their domestic differences onstage. The result is strictly pop, but pop that digs deeper into your psyche than a pissed-off Freudian analyst. The songs appear mere bubblegum—with lyric references to coloring with crayons or a healthy disregard for the future—but each is delivered with the kind of emotional impact that makes it more effective than any heavy-metal ballad. It's pop with punch—as in the song "Proofs," in which the couple starts off shouting "Yeeeehaaa!" with pure rock gusto that echoes Metallica's little Jimmie Hetfield.
Watching the Mates of State is a bit voyeuristic. Gardner and Hammel seem to block out the room and focus only on each other. Each song seems like an oral history, a troubadour's recollection of every gentle fight they've ever fought, as well as the inevitable climax: the couple making up all over again in the span of about two minutes. For every mistake, there is an evil glare; for every loving word, the couple beams. They appear entranced—in a state—but occasionally Gardner seems to come to and realize there are other people in the room. And then she seems a little embarrassed and might say something into the mic by way of apology.
In each Mates of State show, we have been admitted to something intimate. But we're all vulnerable; they sing about their fights, and we dance, even if we don't quite know why.
The last time the Mates of State played Koo's Art Cafe, they opened for the maudlin Bright Eyes. The room was packed tighter than a pickle jar with kids looking forward to Conor Oberst's tales of depressing love gone wrong. But the Mates mopped the floor with Bright Eyes. Resistance was futile.
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THE MATES OF STATE PLAY AS PART OF THE OMNIBUS RECORDS SHOWCASE WITH THE ELECTRO GROUP, TENNIS AND THE CAVE-INS AT KOO'S ART CAFE, 1505 N. MAIN ST., SANTA ANA, (714) 648-0937; WWW.KOOS.ORG. SAT., 8 P.M. $5. ALL AGES.