Mates of State at the Grog Shop, Sunday, August 3
With all due respect to Matt & Kim and She & Him, the mantle of indie-pop’s most adorable duo still belongs to Mates of State. The husband-wife team of singer-drummer Jason Hammel and singer-keyboardist Kori Gardner has been cranking out its trademark brand of organ-heavy power-twee for 10 years now. But with two baby girls and two new band members in tow, there’s a lot more to the Mates than just the “mates” these days.
“It was a little odd at first, because Jason and I were so used to being just focused on each other,” says Gardner, referring to the addition of string players Lewis and Anton Patzner to the current MoS touring lineup. “But these guys are such incredible players, they’ve kind of inspired us and made the music fresh again.”
Gardner and Hammel recruited the Patzner brothers to add some live flair to songs from the fifth Mates of State album, Re-Arrange Us — a record that has surprised some fans with its focus on piano-based melodies rather than Gardner’s trademark Hammonds and Casios.
“It just kind of happened that way,” she says. “We were originally writing on the organ, as usual, but we just weren’t getting anywhere. We felt like we were repeating ourselves. So we moved over to the piano and kept coming up with ideas from there.”
Of all the changes to the Mates’ universe, though, finding time for music within parenthood has been the toughest.
“It used to be, we could just empty out all our ideas, because we’d have all this time on our hands to write. Now, if we get five minutes to write a song, it’s like a vacation! That’s probably the biggest change.”
As for the future, Gardner likes to employ the “We’ll figure it out” approach. “As long as we’re happy and healthy and the kids are happy and healthy, it’s all good.” Opener Judgment Day takes the stage at 9 p.m. at the Grog Shop (2785 Euclid Heights Blvd., 216.321.5588). Tickets: $14. — Andrew Clayman
Oliver Mtukudzi &
the Black Spirits
Zimbabwe-born Oliver Mtukudzi (better known as “Tuku” by his many fans) has had a long and fruitful career, developing through his 30 years in the business a unique sound that has been called “Tuku Music” in recognition of his style and approach. On his latest disc, Tsimba Itsoka (released by the Cleveland-based Heads Up Label), Tuku continues to combine rich rhythms with socially conscious messages about various issues. While he sang about the hardships of migrant labor and about spirituality on 2005’s Nhava, this time around he points a finger at those who take advantage of others (“Ungade’ We”). On “Chikara,” there’s a message about the “footprints” that everyone leaves behind during his or her time on this planet and the risks of following the traces of those who came before. In a live setting, he shows incredible energy onstage by playing guitar, singing and engaging in a highly improvised dance. The music is contagious and quickly gets under your skin. Though Mtukudzi’s sound is essentially African, you can recognize elements of jazz, reggae and other beats in his songs, which welcome Western instruments (electric guitar, keys) alongside African percussion. Mtukudzi plays at 7 and 9 tonight and tomorrow at Nighttown (12387 Cedar Rd., 216.795.0531). Tickets: $25. — Ernest Barteldes
Vagabond. Drifter. Vagrant. No matter what you call him, Klyma is proud to be it. After 10 years of traveling the nation, playing his brand of country, folk and roots rock, Klyma is back on tour to support his upcoming album, Rust Belt Vagabond. Klyma is well known on the festival circuit, and fans have fallen in love with his sincere, expressive acoustic songs. As he writes in the album’s liner notes, he’s been everywhere from Boston to Austin, and his music reflects his travels. The sad violin track “Roll Me Away” reveals Klyma’s desire to move on and never get too comfortable in one place. Still, no matter how many cities Klyma visits, his heart belongs to Buffalo. He even makes the ridiculous amount of snow the city is famous for sound appealing on the nostalgic “Two Degrees in Buffalo.” On Rust Belt Vagabond, Klyma combines homesickness, drinking stories and comical anecdotes, turning it into a reflective album that celebrates his 10-year anniversary. The Finer Things, Trailer Trash Band, Sick and Tom Bianchi open at 8 p.m. at the Beachland Ballroom Tavern (15711 Waterloo Rd., 216.383.1124). Tickets: $8. — Brittany Moseley
As the creative force behind Spiritualized, J. Spaceman (aka Jason Pierce) made some of the 1990s’ most aesthetically memorable albums, using a bizarre chemistry of layered guitar noise, jagged Velvet Underground rawness, gorgeous melodies, curious drug/religious-imagery lyrics and odd fragments of blues and gospel music. After 2003’s Amazing Grace, Pierce was hospitalized with near-fatal pneumonia — with a two-year interruption between writing material for the new Songs in A&E and recovering to eventually record the tunes. A dazzling 1998 live album documented Spiritualized’s uncanny ability to contrast violent/gentle intensities in evocative ways and proved its godlike stature as a live act. Given the band’s track record, it’s a safe bet that the A&E songs will likewise be performed definitively onstage, strategically integrated with Spiritualized classics. Opening the show are those high-energy Detroit garage rockers the Dirtbombs, whose busy 2008 has so far included a new CD/LP, We Have You Surrounded, a Dirtbombs Play Sparks tribute 7-inch, plus a guest appearance on Songs in A&E. It all goes down at 8 p.m. at House of Blues (308 Euclid Ave., 216.523.2583). Tickets: $22.50-$29.50 — Michael David Toth
After a career of schlock rock that has found tunes such as “Sweet Caroline,” “Love on the Rocks” and “Cracklin’ Rosie” becoming fodder for karaoke singers everywhere, singer-songwriter Neil Diamond has finally found what he’s been looking for. Produced by Rick Rubin (Johnny Cash, Slayer), his two most recent albums — 2005’s 12 Songs and this year’s Home Before Dark — present the man as a singer rather than an entertainer. While the results aren’t nearly as stunning as Cash’s work with Rubin, it’s still a side of Diamond that we don’t get to see much. Not that the 67-year-old thinks of his recent output as a reinvention or anything. “I like the way I was invented originally,” says Diamond with a chuckle during a recent conference call. “I’ve kind of gotten used to it. This is just another step, that’s all. I’ve been taking steps since the beginning, from ‘Cherry, Cherry’ to ‘I Am…I Said’ to ‘America’ to Christmas music to Home Before Dark. It’s me. I’m not reaching out for anybody but the audience that wants to listen. That’s all. I’m not doing anything logical. I’m not pre-planning anything. Maybe I would have had a better career if I had and thought it out, but it was all based on how well I could write the songs and how good the songs would be and how the audience took it to their hearts or not, and it’s still that way — exactly that way.” Find out how the new material meshes with the old, when Diamond returns to Quicken Loans Arena (One Center Court, 216.241.5555) to perform at 8 tonight. Tickets: $19.50-$120. — Jeff Niesel
Cleveland-born Joshua Radin is what you could almost call an accidental folk musician. While in New York in the first half of this decade, trying to make it as a screenwriter and painter, he was invited to host an open-mic night at a Greenwich Village club and quickly penned the folky “Winter” for the occasion. Later, a demo of the song made its way to the hands of Scrubs’ Zach Braff, who also happens to be a close friend of his, and the song was played during on one of the show’s episodes. Encouraged by the success he had with that first tune, Radin moved to Los Angeles to pursue his career as a singer-songwriter, ultimately scoring a record deal with Columbia, which released We Were Here in 2006. Radin’s sound is heavily influenced by artists like Paul Simon and Cat Stevens, who sing mostly in hushed voices, focusing the listener’s attention on the lyrics. His breathy, almost-whispered vocals have caught the attention of TV and movie music supervisors, and his songs have been regularly placed in shows like Eli Stone and The Name of the Game and also on the soundtrack of the film Catch and Release. For his homecoming appearance, Radin shares the bill with pop pianist/singer Vanessa Carlton, who’s touring in support of Heroes & Thieves, her debut recording for the hip-hop label The Inc. Records. The show starts at 8 p.m. at the Beachland Ballroom (15711 Waterloo Rd., 216.383.1124). Tickets: $17. — Barteldes
People always love when someone from their hometown makes it big. They love it even more when said celebrity comes back home for a stint. After developing a skill for jazz guitar at age nine, Stone eventually left Cleveland for college in Boston, then later for a career in New York City, where he’s based now. Besides releasing three albums, Stone has worked with prominent jazz musicians like Kenny Barron and Ralph Lalama and performed at major venues such as Carnegie Hall. He also teaches jazz at Hofstra University and the Brooklyn Conservatory of Music. He gained positive reviews as well as accolades as “one of the finest straight-ahead guitarists on the current N.Y.C. jazz scene” due to his ability to combine classic jazz techniques with a contemporary vision. Stone’s Cleveland friends — bassist Dave Morgan and drummer Ron Godale, both well-known jazz musicians — join him for this show, which starts at 7 p.m. at Nighttown (12387 Cedar Rd., 216.795.0531). Tickets: $10. — Moseley
Now that most of us agree that Radiohead is the best band on the planet, can we get back to the reasons for the title? For all the talk of the group’s many achievements (merging digital blips and beeps to a rock aesthetic, recording one of the greatest CDs of the past 15 years, practically giving away its latest album online), there’s little discussion about the music it’s made over the past decade and a half. Stripped of their studio gloss, the songs on Radiohead’s best albums — The Bends, OK Computer, even the new In Rainbows — subsist out of their contexts. Listen to “Fake Plastic Trees,” “Let Down” or “Bodysnatchers” — there are real-deal hooks and melodies going on there. Of course, the blips and beeps and all that other stuff is what elevate Radiohead from a good band to a great one. Onstage, it’s louder, faster and even more human. Grizzly Bear opens at 7:30 p.m. at Blossom (1145 W. Steels Corners Rd., 216.241.5555). Tickets: $30-$50. — Michael Gallucci
Harry & the Potters
In the same way the Lord of the Rings movies made it cool to be a nerd a few years ago, Harry & the Potters are giving bookworms something to rock out to. This group of Boston goofballs is willing to entertain everyone from little sisters to senile English teachers. Not only does their name allude to J.K. Rowling’s outrageously popular series, but their lyrics actually cover serious lymagical topics, like using phoenix tears to get more power and banding together against the evil demons who suck out wizards’ souls. Harry & the Potters’ supernatural ideas don’t end with witty songs and live shows. They recently put together a compilation of 10 “wizard-rock” bands to fight against media consolidation. Sounds like a noble cause — defeating Rupert Murdoch is almost as good as getting rid of Voldemort, right? In addition to their wizard-band friends (Draco & the Malfoys, Potterface), they’ve also tried to befriend everyone from Andrew W.K. to Bruce Springsteen. If you haven’t seen the movies or read the books, some of the material might leave you puzzled. But the Potters use groovy ’60s-era organ, handclaps and a whole lot of synth, keeping the music upbeat enough for muggles (you know, those of us who don’t believe in magic). Math the Band and Uncle Monsterface open at 6 p.m. at the Grog Shop (2785 Euclid Heights Blvd., 216.321.5588). Tickets: $10. — Danielle Sills
There are two sides to Philly rockers Dr. Dog: the one that digs the Beach Boys and the one that digs the Band. It occasionally makes for an odd — if groovy-’60s — combo. It also makes for records, like the new Fate, which aren’t quite sure which direction to go. But the five guys certainly have their chops. They pull back from jam-band overindulgence just in time, and the way they replicate classic fun-in-the-sun harmonies and rootsy Americana is often remarkable. But Dr. Dog isn’t just about laying down old-timey sounds for nostalgia’s sake. These are some funky players, skilled as much in old-school R&B as they are in the Beatles’ psychedelic pop. Like pals My Morning Jacket, Dr. Dog stretches the boundaries of what a rootsy group should sound like — even if it’s not exactly sure what that sound is half the time. Machine Go Boom opens at 9 p.m. at the Beachland Ballroom (15711 Waterloo Rd., 216.383.1124). Tickets: $12 advance, $14 day of show. — Gallucci