It’s almost a decade since husband and wife duo Mates of State last toured the UK. These shows were in support of the release of LP Bring it Back and this was the record which introduced me to their energetically brash brand of electronic indie-pop. Latest EP release You’re Going to Make It is the first record since 2011’s Mountaintops and demonstrates the band’s reenergized approach to making music, whilst still retaining the infectiously youthful spirit that attracted me to them in the first place. I was therefore eager to experience this new material up close and personal in The Soup Kitchen tonight.
As I descend the stairs into the basement of the venue in Manchester’s Northern Quarter, a barrage of impassioned vocals greet me. Shilpa Ray have already kicked off a blistering support slot and arriving midway, I feel like I’ve unwittingly blundered my way into some kind of violent confrontation. Musically and vocally full of rage, the threesome generate an awesome soundscape of discontent but this is all delivered in a manner that is actually incredibly satisfying because of the material’s inherent inventiveness. Shilpa’s harmonium anchors the flexible rhythms and a pedal steel adds evocative tones amongst the inspired percussive elements. The songs are epic in length and emotion and twist and turn, serpentine like, adding an unpredictable element to proceedings, turning the support slot into an unexpected pleasure.
What is particularly incredible watching Jason Hammel and Kori Gardner perform tonight is the manner in which they create such complex soundscapes between just two individuals. Deciding to start early after setting up after Shilpa Ray’s set, the effect is certainly enhanced by the joy the duo appear to share when performing together and although the evening does have a bit of a ramshackle quality to it at times, the interaction between the couple is actually rather endearing.
The youthful exuberance of new songs including Staring Contest in particular demonstrate the duo’s ability to craft the most delicious melodies and where the band maybe focussed on a musical inventiveness in the past, the new material showcases Kori’s particularly impassioned vocals along with the innovative harmonies which many of their songs are built around. Fraud in the ’80s is full of the effervescent synths that I first heard on the LP Bring it Back and the song delivers a welcome shot of nostalgic pleasure. The evening is full of these satisfying moments and Kori and Jason bounce giddily off each other, enhancing the upbeat tone of the majority of the set list.
The highlight of the show comes at the end of the evening in the form of new track Beautiful Kids and actually demonstrates a pleasing shift in tone. With Jason taking lead vocal duties, he prowls the low stage, daring the crowd to challenge him in his own staring contest as he sings fervidly, “You should stare into my eyes more”. The intensity of his performance in this moment is an unexpected delight considering the light-hearted material which proceeded it and it provides one of those moments to remember that is so fundamental to the live experience. It is certainly a real pleasure to have Mates of State back on our shores because they are still as vital and relevant as they have always been.
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Review and Photos by Iain Fox | @IainFoxPhoto