Mates of State without writing about all things people write about Mates of State. The band's story, after being told and retold and retold again, has sort of transcended the band itself, an arc around to stab the backs of the people who first told their story. As we smash through the fourth wall of music journalism, this would be the part of the introductory paragraph where I mention that everyone mentions the two main members of Mates of State, Kori Gardner and Jason Hammel, are married and very much in love and everyone at the Echo on Los Angeles' East Side knows this. It is inescapable. Of course, Mates of State once suggested, and played on this night, "Everyone Needs An Editor," a love song about blue skies and maybe introductory paragraphs, and it is hardly their fault that their narrative so gratuitously swallows their music. It is also worth noting here that Hammel, the drummer, took off his wedding ring rather conspicuously in the minutes leading up to the show. This was not a symbolic or temporary divorce of Kori Gardner, it's just very hard to play drums with a wedding ring on. The music might trump the narrative after all, or at least they would collide on the stage for a bit more than an hour.
The band opened with a concerted mixture of material from their previous three albums, Bring It Back, Re-Arrange Us, one of the best releases of 2008, and their more recent, Mountaintops. Opening with "For The Actor", a screaming love song from a couple who is already in love, Gardner and Hammel glanced at each other furtively, with a learned and controlled fecundity, singing lyrics like, "I remember when it poured and you sang to me in summer, it's a fantasy." This from a band who made their name in the early part of the previous decade by playing shows while staring unbroken into each others' eyes. It was creepy and cute. There is none of this type of explicitness these days. They then played "My Only Offer", "Now", "Sway", "Unless I'm Led" and, maybe their finest song, "The Re-Arranger", its four discrete parts showing the band's gift for key signature changes and second (and third and fourth) movements. The third movement of "The Re-Arranger" featured Gardner and Hammel nearly screaming, "Re-arrange us, re-arrange us", one of the most tremulous and triumphant moments in recent pop music.
A brief interlude debate about what of their old catalog the band could play lead to one of those adorable arguments between the lead-singers about what key 2000's "Everyone Needs An Editor" was originally written in. Eventually, they arrived at the right key, or the right one for this night, and plowed to the final act centering on the lyric, "I'd paint the sky with you, I'd let you choose the blue." It is the type of life-affirming, love-sick lyric that makes audiences swoon. The band then played, "Ha-Ha", another of those multiple movement songs that closes with the lyric, "This is blood that we're made of, go tell it like a chronicle," that blood is their music and their marriage. It is the story that we, and they, can't help retelling.
Mates of State plays the Echo again on Saturday, July 7.