Mates of State return to their roots

It was like a homecoming dance for sweethearts Kori Gardner and Jason Hammel � except they also served as the entertainment.

On Thursday, the duo known as Mates of State revisited The Bottleneck, where they had played their first gig five years ago. Since marrying and relocating to San Francisco in the late '90s, the two Kansas University grads have continued to carve a name for themselves in the fickle indie pop scene.

It's rare to see a two-piece perform in band-oriented venues, especially when their instrumentation consists of only keyboards and drums. Mates of State entertained the packed crowd with a brisk set that managed to fit 15 or so tunes into only 45 minutes.

The quirky pair accomplished this feat by avoiding microphone patter and spending virtually no time screwing around between songs. (Unlike most guitar-based bands, they had nothing that needed to be tuned.) Despite the lack of verbal interplay, they always seemed to be connecting with the audience.

In this live setting, Gardner's frequently distorted keyboards and Hammel's oddball grooves afforded the compositions a heavier vibe than their records (such as the current "Our Constant Concern") would suggest. But make no mistake: It was still the very definition of pop. At times the act flirted with textures and riffs that were inescapably rinky-dink � like the background music that accompanies video games.

However, the intricate vocals and pure conviction of the pair (who face each other while they play) gave the tunes some soul.

Aside from one song that featured a guest trumpeter, the weight of the performance rested exclusively on Gardner and Hammel. They had no trouble filling the stage. Mates of State proved a fitting marriage of eccentric gimmickry and pop sensibility.

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