Mates of State probably don’t play many shows in art museums, and they probably play even fewer that begin with an emcee urging the crowd not to miss the Samsung Video Game Lounge…but there they were on Saturday night, bemused but energetic as they inaugurated the Weisman Art Museum’s WAMplified! (exclamation point not to be omitted) music series.
The series is planned as a thrice-annual occurrence at which musical performers are selected to complement the art currently on display. Mates of State were chosen, explained the Weisman’s Christopher James (better known to local music lovers as a member of the band Rope Trick) in his introduction, because Kori Gardner and Jason Hammel—the Mates’ two members—are married, as are Dorothy and Herbert Vogel, donors of art now hanging in the Weisman’s galleries. A bit of a stretch, sure, but it will be much more interesting to hear how James explains the next act, whose identity I caught wind of and which the Weisman will be publicly announcing shortly.
If the official rationale for the Mates’ selection was a little arbitrary, the duo were certainly a good fit for the event in many other ways. They’re a high-profile act, having handily filled the Varsity in April, and they’re a class act. The obvious point of comparison to their live show is Matt and Kim—another romantically attached percussion-and-keys couple—but whereas Matt and Kim are loose and rowdy, the Mates of State are tight and professional. At the Triple Rock in September, Matt and Kim’s stage banter concerned the size of Kim’s breasts, one of which was groped when she crowd-surfed; at the Weisman, the Mates discussed Hammel’s relatively novel experience with Red Bull. (“It works!”)
To be sure, Gardner and Hammel earned their keep. What they do have in common with Matt and Kim is an obvious, tender chemistry; there were as many couples in the crowd making out as there were at J. Tillman, and unlike at that show it wasn’t because they were bored. The Mates ran through an efficient set that drew its highlights from their excellent 2008 album Re-arrange Us. A good portion of the crowd—especially the young girls up front who looked like they were wishing their parents were as cool as Gardner and Hammel—were familiar enough with the band’s material that cheers rose as soon as Hammel struck up the drum figures for songs that were fan favorites.
At another time, in another place, some real bouncing-around might have broken out—and perhaps it did after I had to leave to make another commitment, shortly before the end of the Mates’ set—but this was a museum, after all, temporarily converted to a rock club. Some of the powers that be must have taken some convincing to allow the event to happen, given that the galleries do contain some extremely valuable art that required guarding by staffers who made sure—as unobtrusively as possible, but still—that everyone stayed off the protective ropes. The house lights were up, though dimly, and beyond fixed white spotlights, lighting effects for the band were not to be had. The stage was oriented at one end of the long gallery along the museum’s river-facing side, making for great views of the Mississippi but possibly not-so-great views of the band for crowd members near the back.
If the museum’s conversion to a music venue was perforce imperfect, it was certainly done with loving care and an impressive attention to detail. The Mates were so impressed by the banner the Weisman created that they tweeted a photo of it, and as they played, projections of the WAMplified! logo danced above their heads. From where I was standing near the stage the sound was good (“Can’t see but the sound is AWESOME,” tweeted someone behind me), and what the venue lacked in rock club accoutrements it made up for in fun informality—it was about as close to a living-room show as you’re likely to see a band of the Mates’ stature play. There was certainly no one complaining about the delicious, copious free food or the two drink tickets each attendee was handed upon entry. (I also scored a PBR t-shirt, handed to me by a guy who said, “Thanks for drinking Pabst.” My pleasure.)
Opener Anders Ponders, riding a wave of buzz from his well-reviewed new disc Nodes of Overtones, charmed the crowd with his witty lyrics, warm violin playing, and gracious demeanor. Overall, the event was a promising start to a series that seems likely to be a regular sellout. The Weisman isn’t quite a replacement for the Uptown Bar, but the next act might not pay much heed to the distinction.