Watching a Mates of State set is like meeting an old friend for drinks and sharing a warm embrace after. At least that’s what it feels like for the New Haven, Conn. scene lucky enough to catch the husband-wife duo of Kori Gardner and Jason Hammel often, thanks the various local art shows, radio-sponsored gigs, free events and more that the band plays for the community. Whether in a park in downtown Bridgeport or plugged into a local haunt like BAR, that’s always the vibe: communal, comfy, intimate. As if you were going to see your friend’s band play, only your friend is signed to Barsuk, has played Letterman and countless festivals, and, say, toured the world.
Last week, Mates of State ended their 4-week residency at BAR in New Haven, playing a free show every Wednesday throughout the month of January. Some in the crowd hit all four gigs, while other pizza-chomping attendees flooded in from the main room once they heard what was alive in the back. For the loyalists, one of the best things about seeing these Mates live is the variation in sets, which held true throughout the entire residency run (you can view the full setlists here). I attended Weeks 2 and 4, so that’s what I’ll be focusing on here.
Week 2 (January 11) was deemed “Old School Night,” with “Now” (off of 2008’s Re-arrange Us) being the most recent track of the night. Every other song was from 2006 or earlier, with most of the set being comprised from the Team Boo and Bring It Back eras, which made for a really special show. Some usual suspects came out (songs like “Think Long,” “Fraud in the 80’s,” and “Ha Ha”) while other tracks were far more rare, like “Hoarding It for Home” off of Our Constant Concern. Even more notable were the three tracks played off Mates’ debut, My Solo Project, which included “Proofs,” “Everyone Needs an Editor” and “La’hov.” For those who think they’ve heard most of the band’s repertoire live, this was the night to hit. I definitely couldn’t remember ever hearing a couple of those Solo Project tunes live, but I also drink a lot, so who knows.
Week 4 (January 25) was a mixed bag…literally! The band prepared something unique for their final outing of the residency that turned the show into more of a participatory event for attendees. In a plastic container, the band put names of their songs on little pieces of paper and passed it around, letting people from the crowd pick songs out. This crowd-sourced setlist turned out to be a lot of fun and incited a lot of fun banter between Gardner and Hammel (and between them and the crowd, too). There were free t-shirts and beers to be claimed, and even one “Truth or Dare” that came up. (There was confused as to who was supposed to do the daring; someone from the crowd dared Hammel to kiss Gardner, but she wasn’t having it—I think he sneaked a peck in during the last song, though). The grab bag game added a lot of color and fun to the night, and landed really well with the audience. (My pick was “Like You Crazy.”)
This might’ve been one of my favorite Mates of State shows I’ve been to. It felt like a chill hangout sesh, with its Choose-Your-Own-Setlist setup, which was super welcomed by everyone there. The set started mellow with “Hoarding It for Home” and Mountaintops’ “Desire.” I was glad I chose the 2nd and 4th weeks because I got a big taste of the old school tunes the first go-round, but also got to dip into newer songs like “Staring Contest” and “Gonna Get It” on the closing gig. In addition, a bunch more Mountaintops fare came out to play (one of their strongest albums, IMO), like “Unless I’m Led,” “Palomino,” and “At Least I Have You.” A huge highlight was like the group’s Bowie cover of “Starman,” which was a treat to hear. They should play it at every show from here to eternity. Yes, yes they should.
Towards the end of the set, Hammel passed out free copies of My Solo Project to everyone in attendance, and then signed off with a cover of Jackson Browne’s “These Days.” A free show from a local fave and some free tunes? There are certainly worse ways to spend a Wednesday night.