CAMBRIDGE -- Friends, lovers, roommates. It seemed everyone in the sold-out crowd at the Middle East Downstairs on Thursday was traveling in pairs. As husband-wife duo Mates of State oohed and aahed their way through their cheery indie-pop tunes, it was all about the power of two.
Set up across from each other, Kori Gardner (organ, vocals) and Jason Hammel (drums, vocals) spent the majority of their hour-plus set exchanging smiles and doe-eyes and interweaving vocal melodies. She provided the sweet coos; he punctuated with yelps and hollers.
Hammel, though, sings like he drums -- loudly. He wallops his hey-heys and whoa-ohs as hard as he lays into his snare. But what he lacked in range, he made up for with exuberance. The pair's energy was able to carry the set through new tracks and older favorites.
For the first show supporting their latest release ''Bring It Back," Gardner and Hammel chose to start with album-opener ''Think Long." Beginning with a deliberate, heavy beat, the song transitioned into more typical Mates fare: light, upbeat, and cheerleader-anthemic.
The crowd, however, didn't seem to catch up until the next song, ''Goods (All in Your Head)," off the Mates' 2004 EP, ''All Day." That seemed to be a pattern for the evening. Fans ate up the chance to hear the duo's earlier work, like ''Fluke," ''Ha Ha," and ''A Duel Will Settle This," but took time warming up to the tracks off ''Bring It Back" (released last Tuesday). It's a shame because even live, the new material is much more textually complex and expertly orchestrated. It makes the older catalog seem like a collection of above-average demos.
Opener Maria Taylor, known for her work with Azure Ray, quietly made her way through an unremarkable set, with the exception of closer ''Song Beneath the Song." If only the rest of her offerings were as fun. ''It's not a love, it's not a love, it's not a love song," is how that tune ends, but with cuddly poster-children for matrimony Mates of State on the bill, it may as well have been.