Sunbears!, Black Kids, Mates of State, Chicago

Guest writer Josh Kay recaps his night at Chicago’s Metro with three up-and-coming bands. Thanks Josh!

I kept reading about how Black Kids are the latest MySpace hype and how they’ll probably die a quick and ugly death. Some magazine articles further taught me that they hail from Jacksonville, Florida, and got their start in Christian Rock. All I know is that they write a damn good pop song. It’s genuine, and makes you want to shake your booty.

So, as soon as I found out the Black Kids were co-headlining a Chicago show with Mates of State, I had to buy tickets right away. Even though it was all-ages and I expected a teeny-bopper crowd, I wasn’t going to miss this show.

I got to the Metro an hour before doors opened and headed straight to the Gingerman for a pre-show cocktail. On the way, I walked right past lead singer Reggie Youngblood and drummer Kevin Snow. They smiled and said thanks when I told them I was looking forward to the show tonight. What a cool city. What a cool scene. Just a casual run-in on the sidewalk with a couple of rock stars. On to the show…

The Sunbears!, a drummer and keyboardist duo also from Jacksonville, came on to a stage that seemed to explode with confetti and video. I remember jamming to the music, but I was really struck by the stage entertainment including a projection screen that played computer-generated images of the band. The feel of the performance was a couple of kids who were just in love with the music and were enjoying their road trip. They weren’t taking anything for granted. I liked that. I’ll keep my eye out for their record to see if they were actually any good.

youngbloodBlack Kids
As the Black Kids are a new, young band with only one major record out, I pretty much knew what I was going to hear from them. I absolutely love about half their album, while the other half I could do without. They started out with “Listen To Your Body Tonight.” Typically, this song will get you moving. But seeing them live, I realized that this is not a very good show opener. That’s because Youngblood (pictured) – the star of the stage with his defining voice and stage presence – really only sings the chorus with the girls. Don’t get me wrong, the girls were great too. Dawn Watley’s energy moved me throughout the night. But like I said, Youngblood is the star, the one people pay money to see. The next few songs were mellow, and although it was a good crowd at the Metro, the band just wasn’t able to get us moving. But then they started to turn it up with “Love Me Already” and “I’ve Underestimated My Charm.” When they played “Hurricane Jane,” I knew they were building to a great close. It’s such an awesome song to hear live. It starts out slow and mellow, but explodes into an anthem. The crowd knew it, and was waiting for the surge. The band hit it perfectly – we followed by singing along, dancing like kids, and pumping our hands in the air.

By the time they came to their last song, crowd had transformed. “I’m Not Going To Teach Your Boyfriend How To Dance With You” was as big of a pop hit as I’ve ever seen live. I’m happy I brought a female friend with me – by the end, my masculinity was buried under a thick layer of 80’s pop-inspired dancing glee. But I don’t care, it was a great time.

matesofstateMates of State
I was first introduced to Mates of State at Lollapalooza 2008. I remember they came on right before the Kills, whom I was excited to see. As it turns out, Mates of State caught me off guard with great music, while The Kills were just not good. I left after two songs and went out to pick up Mates of State’s new album Re-Arrange Us. It’s one of those albums that doesn’t sound groundbreaking until about the third time you hear it, once those hooks get stuck in your head.

Mates of State hails from San Francisco and consists of husband and wife duo Jason Hammel (drums) and Kori Gardner (keys and vocals). They were joined on stage at the Metro by two other musicians who played a litany if instruments; including stand-up bass, trumpet, drums, guitars and hand-held percussions. But the show is really centered on the connection between Jason and Kori. And that connection is strong. My friend had never heard them before and left as a new fan, and the rest of the crowd seemed enamored. For a while, however, I was a little unimpressed. I thought it was more of a sit-down show than stand-in-a-crowd show. That said, one of the added musicians was really active and good at pumping up the crowd, filling the rock-star role.

While there was no encore, Mates of State did a damn good job of closing out the set. Both members of Sunbears! and the extra musicians all grabbed a drum and came towards the front of the stage. With a total of five drummers on stage, they played a mesmerizing beat along to Kori’s vocals. The best use of multiple drums since Bon Iver played on Letterman, it blew me away.

Overall, this was the best show I’ve seen in 2009 so far. A little slow and underwhelming at times, but a solid performance by three talented bands.

– Josh Kay

Below is some archival footage of Black Kids’ “Hurricane Jane.”

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