Mates Of State / Starlight Mints Lee’s Palace, Toronto ON - September 16, 2006

Opening for Barsuk Records comrades Mates of State, Oklahoma-based five-piece the Starlight Mints, led by vocalist/guitarist Allen Vest, have drawn favourable comparisons to the Flaming Lips for their dense, inspired pop arrangements full of funky backbeats, instantly appealing hooks and pre-recorded string arrangements. Drawing mostly from their latest release, Drowaton, the Mints opened with the looming orchestral strut of "Rhino Stomp” before busting into the full-blown pop of lead track "Pumpkin” and "Torts,” its falsetto sighs and playful "tra-la-las” serving as a backdrop for Vest’s slinky Stray Cats vocal work while keyboardist Marian Love Nunez held up the choreography end of things in front of a wall of LCD light columns. The near-sold-out house at Lee’s Palace refused to uncross its collective arms, however, until San Francisco two-piece Mates of State took the stage. The simplified yin to the Starlight Mints’ baroque yang, Kori Gardner and Jason Hammel caused a dance floor explosion with only a couple keyboards and a drum kit. Touring in support of their slickest and most exuberant record to date, this year’s outstanding Bring It Back, the husband-wife team’s business is effortlessly anthemic, heart-in-throat dance pop, and business was good, as Hammel and Gardner’s doppelganger vocals bobbed and weaved through a tight set that included new tracks "Beautiful Dreamer,” "Punchlines,” their rabble-rousing single, and "Fraud in the ’80s.” The pair’s signature strength has always been the way in which they ratchet up the tension through duelling vocal lines, making their breezy harmonies and sing-along choruses seem all the more catchy and unfussy, but the star of the show is undeniably Gardner, whose diva-like pipes can fill a room like few others. While the Mates’ verse-chorus, verse-chorus, big finish song structures are admittedly predictable, it’s a testament to their talents that it never gets boring. Together since 1997, the Mates of State have been one of indie music’s best-kept secrets for far too long. A few more shows like this one and it’ll only be a matter of time until they get the recognition they deserve.