Love conquers all at Mates of State concert

Love isn’t the first thing that comes to mind when attending a concert, but at Mr. Small’s last Sunday, Mates of State shared their love with a packed crowd. The band formed in 1997 when Kori Gardner and Jason Hammel, then living in Lawrence, Kan., realized they could turn their love for each other into complementary harmonies and catchy melodies. The two married in 2001, had a daughter, and haven’t looked back since.

Ennui, a band from Pittsburgh, and the Starlight Mints opened the concert. Unfortunately for them, the mob of people came for Mates of State and were not that receptive to the smaller bands, which suffered from a lack of variety in the sound of their songs, particularly the Starlight Mints. The fivesome from Norman, Okla., could tell, too, and that was one of the saddest parts. Pleas from the band for more energy from the crowd went unheard. At one point, Marian Nunez (keyboards, flute, and vocals) mentioned she would be at the back of the room after their set. After a minute of uncomfortable silence, Ryan Lindsey, her bandmate, said, “They aren’t even paying attention. Are you guys?” Luckily a group of high school girls (one of many) yelled, “We are — just for you!”

After the Starlight Mints left the stage, Gardner and Hammel waltzed onto the stage and started setting up their instruments — Gardner her keyboard and electric organ, Hammel his humble drum set. They were so nonchalant and normal-looking, people in the crowd were asking, “Is that them?” and answering, “I don’t know.” The couple spent about 10 minutes setting up, talking closely to each other, and staying completely blind to the crowd eagerly awaiting their performance. It was a common theme with the Mates — they had a closer bond with each other than they ever had with the crowd. Still, it was cute to watch as the two finished up their conversation, walked slowly over to their respective instruments, gave each other a knowing glance, and started playing.

All through the night they played songs from their two latest albums, Team Boo (2003) and Bring it Back (2006). The only time they deviated from this normal regimen was when they broke into Gnarls Barkley’s “Crazy” right in the middle of their own “Like U Crazy.” Gardner majestically slowed her piano playing, and the cover they played was like Barkley’s version on morphine. Regardless, it was an enjoyable segment, and after about two minutes it was right back to “Like U Crazy.”

After every other song, Hammel would lean over to his microphone and say, “Thanks very much.” This was basically all he said, and never once did he make eye contact with the crowd. Gardner was only slightly less withdrawn, sometimes even starting to dance as she played and sang. Still, somehow, the show had energy.

After the first two bands, it was a surprise to find the audience still there — they were so quiet one might have thought they all went to sleep. When Mates of State started playing, they opened one eye to check out what all the noise was about. The noise was about a married couple playing their amazing, poppy music, because it’s what they love doing — not because the audience encouraged them.