Mates of State and The Black Kids @ The Henry Fonda Theater, 4/23/09
It was really comforting last Wednesday to wander out of debris strewn Hollywood Blvd, which had become an odd wasteland after tornado Free-Depeche-Mode-Concert hit, and into the Henry Fonda Theater. Especially since it was Mates of State that I had come to see. Their music is nothing if not comforting. I mean take one part true love and one part sunshine pop and you have Mates of State. The husband and wife duo, Jason Hammel and Kori Gardner, faced each other through out the whole set. Him, on his drum set, and her, on her keyboards, sang in harmony, while gazing lovingly at each other. It's like the audience wasn't even there. If it had been a Disney cartoon, tiny bluebirds, chubby chipmunks, and fawns with giant eyes would have appeared on stage and surrounded them.
It turns out that despite all of this warmth, a band can't really survive on a drummer and a keyboardist alone. You need depth; you need bass; you need a fullness that these instruments alone cannot provide. To fill this void the guys from Judgement Day, who had opened the show, returned to help out with cello and violin in hand. The difference was huge. When Mates of State were playing alone it was like listening to your headphones when one earphone breaks and you can only hear half of the song. With Judgement Day, the fullness of the sound was restored to it's former glory. Especially with the violin solo, which became the third voice in each song that it was featured in. Hammel and Gardner's harmonies went from the mundane to the essential with that violin as the solo high note. Mates of State's mistake was to have Judgement Day come on and off stage, which felt like your headphones breaking and being repaired over and over again.
As soon as Mates of State finished their set, half the house left. It was incredible mass exodus. It is always bewildering why people would leave before the headliners start. I mean, you've already bought the ticket, you might as well stay for the first song. If it sucks, then you can leave. I was also flabbergasted that Mates of State inspired such devotion. Let's be honest, are you really going to start a mix off with My Only Offer as you're opening song? Yes, they can write a good pop tune, but even their best songs aren't going to reach a position higher then say Track 7.
The Black Kids had a very nice year in 2008. Their single, I'm Not Going to Teach Your Boyfriend How To Dance With You, exploded on the radio, getting hipsters of all ages to shake their tail feathers. They were cheeky, they were fresh, but the question was, were they any good live? I'll put it like this. If you wanted to go out dancing on a Friday night, and you wanted some live music, and someone gave you tickets to the Black Kids...you should go. But unless all three of those things happen sequentially, I really wouldn't bother.
To be clear, their beats are great. In fact I think the whole band should be renamed after the drummer. It should be called, Kevin Snow and the Black Kids. His inventive rhythms behind the skins are what make this band great to dance to. Slap on some synthesizer and that makes up for 70% of why they are so catchy. The vocals, a combination of Reggie Youngblood (guitar), Dawn Watley (keyboards), and Reggie's sister Ali Youngblood (keyboards) are high pitched and scratchy. Their main purpose is to present the saucy lyrics to the audience. Not to harmonize or to sound even remotely decent. They are purely functional. As is Reggie Youngblood's guitar licks,which were simplicity themselves and purely to give the synthesizer some breathing room.
I will give these kids from Jacksonville credit, though. Like an aging movie star who uses flattering light in her publicity photos, the Black Kids played to their strengths and hid their weaknesses. No elaborate guitar solos were attempted. The vocalists did not try any ambitious high notes. The Black Kids were here to get their audience grooving, so they amped up the drums and the synth, and danced around the stage as if it was their legs were going to be amputated in the morning and this was their last chance to boogie. I kept thinking, "A for effort guys, but the fact of the matter is I saw Bloc Party do it better a few weeks ago, and the Virgins will be coming to town in a few more, and they both would school you." Perhaps, I'm being too harsh. This was their first record, and it was a decent performance. They've got potential, but have a long, long way to go.