THERE ARE the shows I know, and then there are just the ones where I just go.
Yes, a one-line rhyme serves as a horrible hook, but it was a late Saturday night, it’s been a long Lent, and I’m still waiting for a resurrection of prosaic creativity.
The Mates of State/Black Kids bill at the 9:30 Club wasn’t on my calendar. The sweet post-punk pop rhythms of husband/wife duo Kori Gardner and Jason Hammel (Mates of State) never seduced me—blame an impatient mouse-finger and a hyperactive eardrum— but since last May, there’s been a special place in my soul for the fantastically dance-able Black Kids, and when the opportunity to cover the show came up, the SEC-less Final Four, and another night at home, received a well-deserved shunning.
Ladies and gentlemen, creativity may be frozen, but the obtuse sentences just keep running.
Disclaimers aside, if a person somehow stumbled off of U Street and onto the beer-soaked floor of the 9:30 Club, it probably would have been close to my Saturday night. My lack of planning was balanced by the devoted lovers of indie-stalwarts Mates of State and the infected-dance crazed Black Kids fans who sold out the show, leaving lines stringing out the door, and a stretch Hummer straddling the curb.
Slow metro lines and a bit of apathy contribute to a late arrival, and the Black Kids were getting ready to take the stage when I, and my plus one, finally worked our way off the bar and out on the floor.
D.C. may be straight-laced, but the last time that the Black Kids came to town, the District danced. It was a rain-filled May night, and the Kids were opening for Cut Copy over at the Black Cat. The night started with a last-second decision, but by the time things struck midnight, we were in the middle of a dance party at a cleared out clothing store, hosted by Filter, and DJ’d by the Black Kids and Cut Copy. It was a sweat-slipping evening that still burns up with the insanity of Girl Talk, as one of the best bass-thumping, head-swaying, hipster-hopping nights.
Saturday night may have not been May, but when the lights finally went dark and the Black Kids shambled onto the stage, the confetti that came streaming over the crowd just seemed right.
When the mixing is right, few mid-level bands do dance better than the Black Kids. The quintet leads a killer party, somehow mixing just the right amount of tongue-in cheek playfulness and joy with fuzzy danceable riffs. Ringleader Reggie Youngblood floats his plaintive voice over the distortion and driving bass, providing light-hearted direction to the funk. The background comes from Reggie’s sister Ali and her blonde accompaniment Dawn Watley (on the synth and keys, respectively) as the two shake and move with all the seductive grace of hipster post-Motown backup dancers.
Yes, you want to rock with them.
There’s a playful sexuality that pervades all of the Black Kids songs and the underestimated charm leaves part of you that wants to just spend the night with the band and every single one of their hip-shaking melodies.
A bigger room, a colder city and an opening slot may have dimmed some of the enthusiasm greeting “Hurricane Jane,” and the saucy riffs blasting from the stage, but when the Black Kids cranked into the all-touching “I’m Not Going to Teach Your Boyfriend How to Dance With You,” the floor was rolling. It’s the type of perfectly rolling single with a fuzz-filled guitar lick, throbbing bass and incorporates one of the most effective crowd-unifying participatory techniques—counting. Try to keep from smiling, when the fingers go up and the room starts yelling,
“1, I’m biting my tongue, 2, I’m kissing on you….”
When the Mates of State finally hit the stage, even the headlining status and Japanese globe lights couldn’t keep the sense of a letdown from hitting the room. It’s not like there weren’t smiles, a husband-wife musical pairing possesses a strange appeal and charm for the hipster children, a back story rivaling that of even the bushiest-beard cabin dweller.
He drums and sings. She tinkles the synth and sings. Gratuitous eye contact ensues.
The formula, at least for the early music seems pretty simple, take pop song formulas, stretch out the melody and the rhythm, then distort, stretch and bury beautiful harmonies under the dissonance. Hammel roots his drumming in more punk than pop, but when it’s just Hammel and Gardner on stage, the combination borders on grating rather than enchanting.
That effect was mitigated somewhat by the addition of a violinist and cellist, fleshing out the soft and allowing the rhythms to serve as a foundation, rather than a centerpiece.
It’s not like it was a complete loss. “Like U Crazy,” and “Parachutes (Funeral Song)” left me scrambling to Imeem the tracks later, but the majority of the set served as a sugary-sweet one-night musical stand. Pardon the potential toe-treading on of sacred and special musical golden calves in your life, but it’s the type of music that works in small doses and small spaces on the doe-struck, twitterpated masses.
My misanthropic companion and I may have walked away with a profound sense of “meh.” But maybe you just have to feel it to hear it.
I sure felt the Black Kids.
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