Mates of State and The Ladybug Transistor are two classic indie rock bands with ties to the NYC scene of the turn of the century, and they reunited for a joint show at the intimately sized East Williamsburg venue Sunnyvale for an extremely fun invite-only show complete with an open bar. Both bands had been away from the concert circuit for far too long and both were playing one of their full albums made 20 years ago. It was a rare chance for serious fans to see two classic subculture rock bands from the days when fanzines reigned DIY supreme in a small setting and share their love of the music with other serious devotees.
The Ladybug Transistor is an archetypal indie pop band that got their start in Brooklyn back in the mid 90’s. They were playing their classic 1999 album The Albemarle Sound in its entirety in conjunction with their recently released 20th anniversary vinyl reissue of the record via Cara Records. It is a gorgeous remaster with a glorious gatefold packaging that really made it irresistible to grab at the show. It just so happens this particular disc was heavily inspired by the Brooklyn neighborhoods of Ditmas and Kensington that has been my home for the last few years. This area is situated just south of Prospect Park, where towering cypress trees line streets of elegant Victorian houses. This disc is full of references to sights, sounds, and even street names of this idyllic and diverse community. Lead singer Gary Olson has had a house and recording studio in Ditmas Park for decades now, and this is where they recorded this album, which he calls Marlborough Farms (which was also the title of their first 1995 album and named after the street Marlborough Road). From their very beginning they were known for a particularly breezy and mellow 60’s sound, played with a smooth jazz whimsy, yet tightly and progressively fashioned like something you’d expect from an expansive chamber orchestra, and all was brought together with some classically angelic folk harmonies.
The Albemarle Sound was the band’s third album, but also felt like the first to really feel like they were at home. Even though they have released few more albums after, many fans would claim this is still their most beloved. This was also the first era where they began to expand their lineup, and that has changed quite a few times over the last couple decades, but this album’s cast is considered by many of the top fanatics to be their “classic lineup”. Their last LP way back in 2011 featured a lot of fresh faces on the roster, but they have also largely been inactive as a band since shortly thereafter, so many have been left many feeling abandoned in their malaise. However, back in July of this year, they surprised many with performances at the Egersund Visefestival in Egersund, Norway. For this homecoming show here in Brooklyn, many of their classic members have returned, with Olson, Julia Rydholm, Jeff and Jennifer Baron, and Sasha Bell all coming back to rehearse at their old studio Marlborough Farms. Original Albemarle drummer San Fadyl sadly passed away back in 2007, so Huvudbry drummer Hampus Öhman-Frölund stepped in to help kick out the jams, and Kyle Forrester guested in on sax and keys as he had with Ladybug in the past.
They did not play the album from beginning to end, and I was told they couldn’t play straight through with all they instrument changes and such. The stage was already overflowing with instruments of all sorts that there was barely enough room for the musicians. It seemed they all switched up instruments on multiple occasions throughout this epic masterpiece, and it really helped give all those amazing songs that deeply rich and heavenly orchestrated feel they really deserved. I noticed they plopped at least one other song not from the album in the set, the classic “Brighton Bound” from their next album, 2001’s Argyle Heir, and there was also an additional cover of the Bee Gees’ 1967 heart wrenching classic “Massachusetts” at the end of their set.
There are possibly more shows on the horizon, but we’ll just have to hold on to our collective excitement and wait on any further official announcements. Until then, all the different members have a variety of projects going on to keep your refined palates moist. Jennifer Baron has the impressive band Garment District, Jeff Baron and Sasha Bell continue on with their classic 90’s Brooklyn indie band The Essex Green and even released a new album on Merge last year, Sasha has a new album coming soon, and Gary Olson is finishing work on his own solo album as well.
Indie rock darlings Mates of State performed second, and they played their debut album My Solo Project from the year 2000 in its entirety. This perfect pairing is the husband-and-wife duo of keyboardist Kori Gardner and drummer Jason Hammel (both of whom also sing leads and harmonies), and they travelled around quite a bit before settling in Connecticut in the early 2000’s, but they definitely used their proximity to NYC to help boost themselves into the indie stardom. It seemed like you couldn’t help but trip over one of their shows in New York about a decade ago, as they seemed to be playing here all the time.
Their sound always stuck me like listening to a circus march, with organ and drums whirling around your head at dangerously high speeds. It is a stripped-down, DIY sound, that still has a luster and polish all their own. Like a big top show, there is a lot to pay attention too, plenty of tempo changes to keep you on your toes, and plenty of feels from cheerleading romps, to bittersweet love letters, and even plenty rapturous tirades.
Like Ladybug, Mates they have also not released any new material since 2011. However, unlike that other band, they’ve definitely still been playing live here and there in the last decade, and they are already planning their “20-Year Celebration” tour, which is set to debut in just a couple weeks, so this was clearly a good warm-up gig for them, and a sneak peak for us fans. They are indeed playing this first LP and other classics if the inaugural show is any example, and they already sounded impressively tight for so early in the tour. They are set to do an acoustic show on September 20th in DC at the Rock and Roll Hotel, but they officially start their tour back here in NYC at the even smaller venue of Mercury Lounge in the East Village on the 28th.
Article: Dean Keim