i was there: real estate at black cat, 1.22

30 Jan

Exactly one week ago, I saw a really amazing show. A show that I did not anticipate would be as amazing as what transpired that night. So amazing that I needed a week to let it resonate—to gather my thoughts, to let the impressions stew, to listen to the band’s discography impulsively to reevaluate how the show transformed my feelings toward their music.

Now that I have sufficiently procrastinated mulled, I finally feel prepared to offer an insightful take on the show, albeit with the input of some friends who understand this band on a deeper level than I.

Last Sunday, a New Jersey-based quartet called Real Estate rolled into town for the first time since fall 2009 to play at Black Cat. (Sidenote: what’s with all of these impossible-to-Google band names? “Girls”? “Real Estate”? “The The”?! You guys are making my smart phone work waaay too hard). After releasing their self-titled debut in 2009, Real Estate built their reputation as ambassadors of chill; their sound is the epitome of dreamy and laidback, but with enough bells and whistles to keep things interesting. In fact, the first time I listened to Real Estate I instantly declared, “Oh, neat, a West Coast version of the Shins.”

Incorrect assumptions about geographic origin aside, a beach bum aesthetic pervades each and every song as it drifts down a musical lazy river, with lyrics that romanticize the mundanities of daily life in a small beach town. Yet the simplicity of their lyrics is completely calculated, and they serve as a neutral palette for the supremely crisp, multifaceted, and expertly edited instrumentals. When the band recorded their second album Days in 2011, they stuck to this formula and, quite simply, did it better. They keep the lyrics uncomplicated and let their beautiful instruments play the starring role.

That being said, Real Estate’s music never made me think, “I cannot WAIT to see these guys live.” I couldn’t predict how their sound would translate on stage. If performed improperly, “dreamy” music can easily border on “drowsy” in a live setting. However, if the band could amplify every shimmering, gorgeous layer of their tunes into a casually grandiose experience, then that show could be a treat.

Last Sunday, I happily experienced the latter. On stage at the Black Cat, Real Estate conveyed exactly what makes their music so uniquely special: they capitalize on the carefree simplicity in their lyrics to make their instrumentation soar, and the band’s live presence felt nonchalant but genuine. Bassist Alex Bleeker donned a Giants sweatshirt and clearly struggled to focus on the performance as the G-Men went into overtime, and lead vocalist Martin Courtney’s dance moves never strayed far from some turtleneck head-bobbing.

In a breezy 90 minutes, the band at least touched on all 10 tracks from their latest album. They set the bar high by opening with a rock-solid rendition of “Green Aisles,” a standard to which not every subsequent song could meet—though many came close. Also, I would have appreciated a bit more time dedicated to “All the Same,” the superb 8-minute number that closes out Days. The swells and spirals of that tune offer a glimpse of a future Real Estate, one that can leap out of their comfort zone, and I would have loved to see them really lay into the jam session parts of the song.

Ultimately, however, the award for “having more fun than anybody” definitely went to lead guitarist Matthew Mondanile, particularly when he fell off stage during the encore. That’s ok, though. Even before his puzzling tumble, Mondanile was the best performer of the bunch, taking the energy up a notch at times when, frankly, it needed to be taken up a notch. The group relies on him for that ounce of traditional charisma that they normally dodge, and that ounce is all they need to put forth a performance that could convert a skeptic into to a believer (myself included).

More iPhone photos for your enjoyment. Real Estate is also not so down with the flash from a DSLR, according to Black Cat.

Lead guitarist Matthew Mondanile: drunk or just clumsy?

Real Estate frontman Martin Courtney, gettin his turtle on. Real Estate Bassist Alex Bleeker reppin the New York Gians. #Dynamicduo

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