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“I’m just trying to make some sense of this before I lose another year,” admits Real Estate lead singer Martin Courtney in “The Bend,” a little over midway through the Brooklyn-by-way-of-New Jersey band’s set at the Fonda, his voice mingling with fellow guitarist Matt Mondanile’s sparkling, chiming leads.
Fresh off Atlas, its third straight Pitchfork-approved album, released on U.K.’s hip indie Domino Records label earlier this year, the now five-piece group has added keyboardist Matt Kallman and drummer Jackson Pollis alongside original bassist Alex Bleeker.
The result is a lush, jangling sound that veers between ‘70s power pop acolytes like dBs and the Feelies on the one hand and the Grateful Dead’s jam band ethos on the other, with a little bit of Beach Boys surf music by way of Beach House, Best Coast and Broken Bells.
As befits their name, there’s nothing fancy about Real Estate. They look like aging preppies, the kind of band the cast of Girls might embrace, and are filled with the same trepidation that perhaps they’re getting a little old for this rock and roll thing.
“Toss and turn all night,” admits Courtney in “Crime,” “Don’t know how to make this right/Crippling anxiety.”
“Past Lives,” another song from Atlas, has a dreamy feel, with guitars and vocals harmonizing, and Bleeker’s bass plucking out the bottom, making it sound like a nugget from the ‘60s British Invasion. The U.K. spirit comes out in “Green Aisles,” too a psychedelic Rubber Soul-style take with a Lennonesque lament about “wasted miles and aimless drives,” leading to a final acceptance: “Our careless life style/It was not so unwise/No.”
Kallman’s shimmering keyboards nudge the ethereal instrumental, “April’s Song” into the mathematical precision of the Philip Glass-and-Kurt Munkasci produced post-punk band Polyrock.
Balding bassist Bleeker takes the lead vocal for “How Might I Live,” another new song that ponders a break-up with the kind of passive aggressiveness that marks the band’s approach, one foot in bohemia, the other in the suburbs, sporting a backyard and dog. “Fake Blues,” which goes back to the band’s 2009 self-titled debut, has a rhythmic nursery rhyme feel with its nod to a dead end job. “I gotta find a reason to write this song/And I won’t be here for long.”
“Younger Than Yesterday,” from 2011’s Days, could well be a missing Byrds song, with a Mondanile vocal and some dramatic lighting that rouses the audience from its reverie. The 11 o’clock starting time prompts several jokes about it being a school night.
“We’re going to serve breakfast after the show,” says Martin. “That’s an old Bill Graham thing.” This young crowd doesn’t seem to get the reference to the legendary concert promoter.
“Black Lake” starts off all slow and brooding, a deliberate tale which once again harks back to the band’s obsession with intimations of mortality. “The boats are in the harbor/Waiting for clear days/It’s just a matter of time.”
The group starts with a snippet of “Iron Man” before Matt takes the lead vocals on “Beneath the Dunes,” that brings out the jam band aesthetic that lies beneath the band’s dueling guitar approach.
“Talking Backwards” is the set highlight, a riff on miscommunication with the chorus, “We’re not getting any closer/You’re too many miles away/And I might as well be talking backwards/Am I making any sense to you,” while “Had to Hear” features Mondanile’s spacy Garcia guitar licks.
The first encore, “Beach Comber,” with its lyrics about “walking down Pensacola Beach” and finding “your Rolex in the sand,” has the relaxed Upper West Side world beat pop feel of Vampire Weekend, before the band is joined by opening acts Shiloh and the Kevin Morby Band for a chilling, spot-on cover of “Only Love Can Break Your Heart” that effortlessly points out the link between ‘70s Topanga Canyon and 2014 Williamsburg.
Caught up in a classic sound that conflates all notions of time and space, Real Estate stakes its turf in the ever-movable present. Not bad for a bunch of suburban geeks.
How Might I Live
Younger Than Yesterday
Beneath the Dunes
Had to Hear
Only Love Can Break Your Heart (Neil Young cover with Shilohs, Kevin Morby Band)
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