Friday, Feb. 28, 2014
Better than: Real Estate with 10 fewer songs.
Sometimes it's easy to forget that Real Estate isn't a San Francisco (or at least California) band. Its sound -- that singular Real Estate Sound -- is clean guitar tones and vaguely wistful vocal melodies, a musical accompaniment to a Pacific Ocean sunset as it turns from orange to pink to purple to twilight blue. Onstage Saturday at the Independent, bassist Alex Bleeker gives the band away with his effusive praise for the city of San Francisco. Praise like that these days only comes from outsiders looking in.
But, for a night, let's pretend that the New Jersey quintet is Californian. After all, we are at a Noise Pop show, a sold out one at that, and it just wouldn't be proper to miss out on the local acts playing all over town tonight (local acts like Dominant Legs, who will open for Real Estate tomorrow night, at least for everyone who takes the 8 p.m. start time seriously). Actually, scratch that. The local acts are important, but let's remember: San Francisco is a destination. The best bands don't always have to be from here, because they're damn sure going to come here. And Noise Pop is as much about the bands from the local scene as it is about the bands who are honored to take part in this often magical indie-rock festival -- which could very well be older than some of the people in the room tonight.
So Real Estate, on this first night of a sold-out, two-night stand at the Independent, on this first night of a tour behind the new album Atlas (which drops Tuesday, March 4), does exactly what Real Estate does best. Its sound -- that bittersweet California sunset jangle -- thrums out into the packed house, and for that hour and a half, everything outside the room, everything outside the heads and hands of those watching, melts away.
Well, for a brief moment, the band members wrestle with some sound issues. But once they hit their stride, they come together into the force of the Real Estate Sound that's so much more than the sum of its parts. One can very easily pick out and enjoy the simple ingredients, like the plainspoken guitar and voice of Martin Courtney weaving through the complementary meandering guitar lines of Matt Mondanile, but that Real Estate Sound requires all these parts, and something else crystalline and intangible that keeps the crowded house tonight nearly motionless and enraptured.
The Real Estate Sound makes putting together a setlist nearly impossible for the casual fan; all the songs sound pretty much identical. Or maybe it's just that when Real Estate is onstage, it doesn't matter which song it's playing. Still, new single "Talking Backwards" sticks in the brain for hours after the fact, and "It's Real" lights up the crowd as much as it will be possible for the crowd to get lit up tonight. The audience knows that it's still Real Estate's top song, and the band members play it like they know, too.
Perhaps the Real Estate Sound isn't just Pacific sunsets. Perhaps wherever the band goes, fans want to claim it as their own. Perhaps the Seattle and Portland fans find the Real Estate sound evokes a quiet drizzly afternoon, and those east of the Rockies are reminded of whatever local meditative natural beauty they have laying around.
But then it's all over, and the Beach Boys' "You Still Believe In Me" pours out of the PA, and it's plainly obvious. The Real Estate Sound belongs to us here now, in San Francisco, California.
The opener: Listening to the Shilohs's bandcamp page after the fact, I'm surprised that this Beatlesque band is the same one that had me quickly jot down "The Feelies/Dream Syndicate/Felt" on my notepad. The songs so precious on record take on a nervy, electric quality on the stage. I like the stage version better.
Real Estate Setlist
Had To Hear
How Might I Live
Younger Than Yesterday
All The Same