I’ve got John Strohm to thank for Real Estate. Strohm, one of my all-time Boston rock axe heroes and, I’m honoured to say, a Facebook friend thanks to our paths crossing a smattering of times in the 90’s when I saw him perform in 3 different bands (none of which, I’m sad to say, being the seminal Blake Babies), eulogised about this young US Indie band on his facebook feed. Given that one of his other recommendations was as a guest reviewer in Melody Maker in the 90’s, during his tenure as guitarist for The Lemonheads, when he gave the excellent Fountains Of Wayne’s debut “Radiation Vibe” his Single Of The Week, I was inclined to check them out! So I did, and found in their current, 3rd, album “Atlas” a lush, laid-back and lovely collection of tunes, interwoven with smooth, laconic melody and harmonics. A mellower version of early Death Cab For Cutie, perhaps… either way, another US alt-rock band brimming with promise, so I booked a ticket for this one fairly promptly.
On half-term kid duty, I left at 5.30 after Rach got home and the house was tidy (!), but then had an utterly horrendous journey with heavy weather traffic throughout, delaying my arrival until just after 8! Yikes! So I unfortunately hit the venue a couple of numbers into support band Alvvays, and immediately cursed the traffic, as here was a band well worth catching. A Canadian 5-piece, they impressed with some spritely, bright pop tunes; “Atop A Cake”, with its’ flippant “what’s it got to do with you” hook, was a Popguns-like blast, delivered by Molly Rankin, their dynamic female vocalist, in vocal tones a clear octave lower than her Minnie Mouse speaking voice! “We’re from a part of Canada where no-one ever goes unless they want to revisit “Anne Of Green Gables”, Minnie, sorry, Molly lamented before “Adult Diversion”, the highlight of the set, featuring an excellent layered guitar climax. Overall, this was a beautifully judged mix of bittersweet melancholy and Summer bounce with a definite fanzine/ C86 edge, the guitarist’s Breton shirt more evidence of this. Damn fine start!
I took a wander but returned to my usual stage right spot here, a couple of rows from the front, as Seal’s “Kiss From A Rose” provided an unorthodox musical backdrop for Real Estate’s entrance at 9 to a reserved but enthusiastic welcome. They eased into the intricate guitar riff of opener, the low-key, pastoral “To Hear You”, which immediately set the tone for the performance. The sound was perfect, lush and resonant, and the band’s performance was winsome, polite, understated, often quite quiet, yet clearly very accomplished. They were not here to rawk’n’roll, more to weave a tapestry of sound, Martin Courtney’s gossamer-like vocals adding to the fragile, atmospheric opening to the set.
“What a beautiful location!” announced bassist and main cheerleader Alex Bleeker; indeed, the band seemed a little overwhelmed by this, apparently the biggest gig they’d ever headlined, and repeatedly praised the crowd and venue. 5th number in, “Atlas”’ groovy instrumental “April’s Song”, was an early highlight, then “Fake Blues”, a melancholy, almost devotional short little hymn sung by Bleeker, was a nice segue into their best number, “Talking Backwards”, with its’ Toytown guitar riff recalling the old “Chigley” theme tune for this old guy! “It’s Real”’s soaring “whoa-oh” chorus was as rock as this band got, then the stretched chiming, repetitive riff of penultimate set number “All The Same” was an absorbing way to finish the set. Which, perversely, they didn’t, slipping in another one before ending a lengthy-feeling 1 hour 15 set.
Before the encore, the band chugged Smirnoff Ice whilst the audience sang “Happy Birthday” to Alvvays’ drummer Phil; a bit of a mistake as Courtney’s reaction was, “that was disgusting!” Encore “Past Lives” ensured the band left us as they’d arrived, with a whisper rather than a scream, although I was then annoyed that the keyboardist threw the sole set-lists into the crowd whilst exiting the stage. Bah! So, I scrounged a pic from the mixing desk then hit the road, taking half the time to drive home as I took to get here. Cripes! Overall impressions; a real contrast in the bands’ performances, with Real Estate as understated and undynamic as their support had been upbeat and bouncy. I’ll certainly check out Alvvays again, hopefully in a small venue, and I liked Real Estate, sure, but I’m not so sure I’d endure another journey like that to see them. Still, a fine, melodic band nonetheless, so thanks again to John Strohm for the recommendation!