Monday, April 13, 2009

Black Kids with Mates of State @ The Varsity

Last night the Black Kids and Mates of State performed at Minneapolis' Varsity Theater, with an odd opener of metal-orchestral group Judgement Day (and yes, that's how they spell it.)

I must admit, before the Black Kids took the stage, I was skeptical about the band that generated one of Pitchfork's most famous and controversial reviews since that of Travis Morrison's album, but was also intrigued to see if what made Pitchfork exclaim to the world two years ago that the Black Kids were the next sliced bread still existed in any shape or form. In regards to the album that made Pitchfork initially give it a 0.0 before raising it to 3.3, the Black Kids have been on record stating that allowing the producers to take care much of the album work while they were on the road was probably not the best idea. Lead singer Reggie Youngblood stated, "I don't think I ever want to make a record like that again...ever."

While a pre-recorded special entrance music selection played, Reggie took the stage in a mustache-print t-shirt (I asked him later, he said he found it in Chicago) and a ready-to-rock-it-out afro. The Kids got right to it, playing the Moog-keyboard sprinkled twee-pop "Listen To Your Body Tonight" before sliding into the fizzing "Partie Traumatic." The concert was entertaining and borderline drunk-crazy, perhaps due to the fact that they took tequilla shots beforehand, or perhaps just because they were running off the pure energy of the music they were making. At the end of one song, keyboardist/singer Dawn Watley threw down her tambourine with such gusto that it flew right off behind the stage. Reggie was spinning so much that he literally shook off his sweat.

There were plenty of fans in the crowd that seemed to know the drill - they sang the audience chants when the lights went up to highlight all the hands in the air, and quickly took to clapping along to the beat and stopping at the correct times (something I was honestly impressed by, as group clapping isn't always that clean-cut).

Seeing the Black Kids live has its ups and downs. Although they radiate all sorts of hip and cool, when parts of the neo-wave indie-rock songs seem to sound like parts of other neo-wave indie-rock songs they've just played, your mind can smush multiple songs in one lump memory buzzing with electric guitars, thumping drums, and thick bass lines. That said, the Black Kids are still good, ladies and gents, Pitchfork be damned. In part, seeing how the crowd reacted to the Black Kids was enough to convince me that the Black Kids aren't going anywhere with fans like that. The magic spark that can be heard on The Black Kid's highly acclaimed EP The Wizard of Ahhhs is reignited in live setting, perhaps just because you can see the Black Kids in their pure, unadulterated form. Back up singers/keyboardists Dawn and Ali bring spunky to the show, bassist Owen has a quiet rocker genius way about him, and drummer Kevin kept things at a high movable pace. Reggie's voice and personality is well-placed in this indie-synth pop genre and the overall sound of the band was much like Reggies pants - tight and rockin'.

Mates of State, consisting of husband and wife duo Kori Gardner and Jason Hammel, had tons of fans and family in the theater, as Jason is from Stewartville, Minnesota. Mates of State opened with "My Only Offer," and it hadn't really hit me until that moment how much sound a synth coupled with drum set could make. The drums were brought forward to the stage so Jason could be closer to Kori for proper harmonizing and general getting lost in each other's eyes (seriously folks, the chemistry between these two while they make music is almost too cute).

Mates of State know that one of the the greatest elements that a band can add to a concert is outside participation. After following the Black Kids, Kori knew that she had to keep the energy up just as high, and asked the audience (by a show of hands) which song they'd rather listen to. They had two of the guys from Judgement Day play backup strings and various percussion and also tried to match up people in the audience and bring them on stage for a "slower" song to dance to.

Mates of State played 14 songs and 3 closing numbers, the highlights being their most well-known songs like "Get Better," "Goods," and their final "Re-Arranger." A cover of Tom Wait's "Long Way Home" to start off the encore brought Jason up next to Kori to sing a marvelous and moving duet, and they brought up the violinist for Judgement Day and the drummer for Black Kids up to bang on their own drum (literally), which made for great fun as the violoinist was simply reminiscent of a sugar-uped five year old with his drum sticks.

Conclusion: Black Kids still got it and there's still much hope and talent there for future and better albums, which Reggie tells me they are working on. Their last album may not be not great, but it is in no way reflective of what the Black Kids actually sound like in a realist setting, so I greatly urge you to see them for yourself before you decide. Mates of State, as always, delievered with a fun indie-pop/rock show and made sure that everyone danced a bit.

Black Kids with Mates of State @ The Varsity

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