Real Estate at the Fonda Theater: Concert Review

Chris Godley
New Jersey's indie darlings deliver a delightfully jingle-jangle evening to a SoCal crowd.

It was wholly appropriate that indie band Real Estate dedicated its Aug. 3 show in Los Angeles to the late Jerry Garcia, who would have turned 70 two days earlier. Although the Grateful Dead frontman was always linked to San Francisco and the Bay Area, the legendary jam band had many of its most devoted and fervent followers in the New York tri-state region. The four twentysomething members of Real Estate, who hail from Ridgewood, New Jersey, were likely too young to have attended those fabled shows, but you can bet they were aware of the nearby noodling.

The proof is in the music, which can veer from spacey meanderings to pop-perfect melodies to jingle-jangle guitar tidings all in the span of a song. Such was the case at the Fonda Theater on Friday night, where a distinctly west coast crowd filled the room not quite to capacity, which was just fine with the Real Estate loyalists present -- more room to get their groove on.

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And so the audience did, to sunny sounds inspired in part by its own SoCal culture. Some technical glitches at the show's start brought a little harsh to everyone’s mellow, but once the feedback was fixed and the band settled into songs like “Easy,” “Kinder Blumen” and “Out of Tune” from Days, Real Estate’s universally beloved second album (at least where music critics and bloggers are concerned), the set loosened up, found its lane and proceeded to ride it with the top down (it probably didn’t hurt that bassist Alex Bleeker was swigging straight out of a bottle of Jameson). It’s no wonder singer Martin Courtney remarked that he “always felt a kinship with Los Angeles.” 

Indeed, songs like “Beach Comber” and “Pool Swimmers,” off the band’s self-titled, self-released 2009 debut (they were soon after signed to Domino Records), could easily serve as the soundtrack to any surfer’s drive up the PCH, which was one reason why Real Estate, who performed at this year's Coachella Music Festival, seems to resonate so strongly with the Hollywood crowd. But because those lyrics were born by way of the George Washington Bridge, there’s a curious juxtaposition to their very essence as you can’t help but wonder whether they were written indoors. After all, it’s cold out there in suburbia. Particularly Ridgewood, a mere seven miles from Real Housewives of New Jersey territory.

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“I walked on decomposing leaves / I skated on the frozen sea,” Courtney describes in the band’s best-known sing-along “It’s Real.” The tune was a marked crescendo to the nearly 90-minute show, which at times featured long stretches of music sans lyrics. They encored with Days’ “Green River,” perhaps not the ideal choice seeing as it’s one of those songs that, while pretty, drifts along.

No matter, it was quickly forgotten by their choice of the gorgeously clanky “Suburban Beverage,” from the band’s first album, which left the crowd wanting more and chanting “Real Estate! Real Estate!” To the inebriated among us, and with the 2012 Olympics fresh on the mind, the cheer sounded strangely like they were screaming “U.S.A.! U.S.A.!” And curiously, it too was fitting. Not only because the coming together of these four players turned out to be a winning combination, but because their rise to the top of the indie rock heap is so deserved.

Twitter: @shirleyhalperin

Photos by Chris Godley

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