I don’t live in Toronto, and so I tend to buy tickets well in advance for any shows in the city I want to see (who wants to drive for an hour only to find the damn thing is sold out, right?). Reviewing shows works roughly the same way—you see that something you are interested in is coming up and request it right away, weeks in advance, not the week before. Of course, by the time the show actually rolls around sometimes you don’t necessarily feel like going out, but you’ve already paid for the ticket and made plans and so off you go.
This was one such occasion, and I arrived at the Toronto stop of the tour Mates of State and Black Kids are doing needing to be convinced that dragging myself to the city was a worthwhile use of my time. I’d never actually heard Black Kids before (nothing about either the hype or the backlash made them sound interesting) and initially they made me wish I’d stayed home; maybe I’m getting old or just curmudgeonly, but a bunch of kids playing indie-disco while a guy who sounds vaguely like Robert Smith whines about not getting laid is not my idea of a good time. The two girls playing keyboards and singing were far more interesting and entertaining, but unfortunately they spent most of the set backing up Reggie Youngblood rather than taking center stage.
The band’s stage presence was likeable enough (at one point Ali Youngblood was alerted that there was a 25-year-old virgin in the crowd, who she promptly and repeatedly offered to deflower after the show), but it’s telling that for me the high point of their set came when the bassist started up the unmistakable bassline intro to Hefner’s great “I Took Her Love for Granted” between songs (which I initially took just to be between-song noodling) and then the whole band launched into it. Mind you, Youngblood had a crowd of young women screaming at him in a way I don’t think Hefner frontman Darren Hayman ever has, which made the song sound a bit too arrogant for it’s own good, but a point for taste in any case. After that the Black Kids’ set picked up quite a bit, and “I’m Making Eyes At You”, “Hurricane Jane”, and of course “I’m Not Going to Teach Your Boyfriend How to Dance With You” were all effective enough to make me hit up some more of their material the next day.
Mates of State were almost upstaged by their set dressing—big Ikea paper lanterns that didn’t seem to stay aligned hung over their heads, one of them being repeatedly jerked up and down by someone trying to adjust things (not the one that needed to be adjusted, mind you) and repeatedly threatening to fall on Jason Hammel’s head. But once Hammel and Kori Gardner (and their dexterous and talented backing duo of extra musicians, who often managed to cycle through three or four instruments apiece in a song) really got fired up (probably around the time they launched into Re-Arrange Us’ “My Only Offer”) the drive into the city started to seem worth it. In a set that ranged backwards briefly into older material (via a medley) but mostly stuck to stuff from their new album and 2006’s Bring It Back, Gardner and Hammel proved adept at replicating the lusher palette of their recent work on a smaller scale live, as well as maintaining an admirably high level of energy throughout.
By the time Mates of State burned through a fervent and triumphant reading of “Fraud in the ‘80s”, still one of their best songs, my initial doubts were long forgotten. There wasn’t really anything special about this concert, but sometimes all you need or want for a good night out is a solid set of well-performed songs, and Gardner and Hammel were happy to oblige. In doing so, they helped make that long ride home seem a little shorter.