Friday Night: Mates of State at Fitzgerald's
While many of our fellow Rocks Off cohorts had already left for Austin's Fun Fun Fun Fest by Friday, we stuck around to catch Lawrence, Kansas pop-duo Mates of State, who were slated to perform at the fest later that weekend.
Photos by Neph Basedow
Though (sadly) there were no Ryan Gosling sightings at Fitzgerald's, openers, dapper New Orleanians the Generationals were a good consolation prize; the indie surf-pop quintet sported boat shoes and disheveled hair as they plowed through a solid Actor-Caster-heavy set, an album we buzzed about earlier this year. Friday was the band's second time playing Fitz; they played alongside Dale Earnhardt Jr Jr. in May. We caught their set the very same weekend, at Dallas' Club Dada, and were instant fans.
Generationals repeatedly communicated how much they like Houston, liking the city "more and more each time we visit." The crowd thickened only toward the end of their set, and those late to the party missed a good show--and we dare suspect one of the last of its kind, as we already noticed a slight mainstream shift in Generationals' fan-base; the band's recent placement of a song in a Target commercial might have something to do with that.
Between sets, Fitz' usual "bare-minimum" stage received a makeover before our eyes, as it was dressed for Mates of State. The backdrop was a colorful hand-crafted tapestry of Hawaiian flowers, splashed like a rainbow behind their equipment, which was dressed too -- with sprawling green vines, and suspended cotton-ball clouds, all lit with white twinkle lights. It was very arts and crafts chic.
Touring in support of their sixth album, this year's Mountaintops, Mates of State's husband-and-wife team walked onstage to a visibly excited crowd; the energy proved give-and-take, as the duo (joined by a backing guitarist and synth/trumpet player), remained all smiles, pianist/vocalist Kori Gardner bopping up and down as she played.
I'd last seen Mates in 2008, at Chicago's Double Door, and refreshingly, it seemed not much had changed live-wise; the chemistry between Gardner and drummer/vocalist Jason Hammel is instantaneously evident live -- and cute, but just the right amount of cute to not overtake the music. We admit, the splurge of more recent husband/wife duos like Matt and Kim had left us with a skeptically trite taste in our critical mouths, but Mates of State don't play up their cute, naturally appealing back-story--because why should they? They let their clear chemistry speak for itself and focus on the music instead.
"So, you guys aren't like, 'Occupying Houston' or anything?" asked Hammel, to some scattered laughs. "It's too big," he continued. "You wouldn't know where to occupy!"
Gardner dedicated a string of songs, including "Goods" and "Parachutes (Funeral Song)," to Andrew Taylor, a local barista and University of Houston alum who passed away tragically just last week. A thoughtful dedication, and Mates' personalized song deliveries didn't stop there: A dreadlocked fan's hopeful pre-show request for "Hoarding It For Home," from 2002's Our Constant Concern, wasn't ignored. The song, which, according to Gardner, they hadn't played in eight years, was attempted, nonetheless, but only after Gardner's warning of, "This is going to be bad -- really bad!"
The song wasn't without fumbles and re-dos, but the crowd didn't mind, calling out more requests, to which Hammel seemed open, but which prompted Gardner to playfully remind him, "Jason, we came prepared to play the songs we've practiced!" She smiled when telling us this spontaneous all-request block had only been done in Houston, so far.
They continued to stray from their "prepared" set-list, to our pleasure, with a welcome cover of Jackson Browne's "These Days," during which Hammel stood up from his drum-kit, took the mic, and teetered on the edge of the stage, often walking its ledge like a tipsy tight-rope performer, an endearing ham in the sudden spotlight.
Afterward, the band returned to their planned set-list, but the casual spontaneity of that moment created a lasting air of closeness between band and fans. Mates closed out their set with another welcome cover, Daniel Johnston's "True Love Will Find You in the End."
After a short break, the band returned to the stage for an encore, ultimately closing with Mountaintops' leadoff track, pop powerhouse "Palomino." Mates' singsong choruses and enduring spirit managed to rub off on their crowd, as we walked out into the crisp autumn air with light hearts and sugary melodies in our heads.