Indie rock band Real Estate brought their smooth, calming sound to Hollywood’s Fonda Theatre on Tuesday, along with opening acts Kevin Morby and The Shilohs, for a night of rich surf rock.
The concert was the last of the band’s eight-show West Coast tour with the Shilohs. They head out to the East Coast for a 15-date tour next week, surprisingly leaving out their home state of New Jersey on the list of stops.
But perhaps that’s because Real Estate sounds like they truly belong on the sunny beaches of California, with their breezy guitar-driven recordings. Bassist Alex Bleeker said as much himself to the crowd during a break in the action, saying that he’d always felt a connection between New Jersey and Los Angeles because “everyone drives everywhere, there’s tons of strip malls and both places get made fun of a lot”.
Real Estate has been every East Coast hipster’s favorite surf rock outfit ever since Pitchfork rated their 2011 album, Days, as the ninth-best album of 2011 – and that was after the music critic giant gave the band’s 2009 self-titled debut album a 8.5/10 rating. The indie authority was similarly impressed with Atlas, released last week to widespread critical acclaim for its smoother, more professional sound.
But even after those accolades, Real Estate – which sounds like a love child of The Shins and Best Coast – is still relatively anonymous on the West Coast. That’s not exactly surprising; though Real Estate crafts records that are unassuming and likable, they seem indifferent to creating radio-friendly, hook-heavy tracks. “April’s Song”, which contains Atlas’ most catchy melody, is an instrumental that they could have easily layered sing-songy vocals over to get some radio airtime. But they didn’t. With the natural, refined progression of their last album, however, a transition into the mainstream might be inevitable.
The New Jersey natives kicked off their set with two standouts from Atlas, “Crime” and “Past Lives”, that muse and mourn over the passing of time and death – heavy subjects for a band identified with beach jams. But they stay loyal to Real Estate’s pleasant sound, and as Courtney looked off into the distance above the swaying crowd and crooned “All I want to be is by your side” from the latter track, it became clear that they were indeed good choices to get the crowd engaged.
By the time Real Estate, dressed in different shades of lightly-colored buttondowns and dark jeans, launched into their third song, “Municipality”, a strong marijuana odor had started to permeate through the ballroom. Considering it cost $12 to buy a beer and stay in the concert hall (though, to be fair, a wide array of craft beers in the bar attached to Fonda Theatre were reasonably priced at $6), lighting up seemed to be the preferred option for a large portion of the slew of twentysomethings littering the floor.
Though Courtney is considered to be a rather “safe” vocalist, it’s much easier to appreciate his casual vocal style in concert. Courtney’s tone really sounds quite similar to that of renowned crooner Ben Gibbard of the Postal Service and Death Cab for Cutie, though the mood of their bands’ records couldn’t be more different. When guitarist Matt Mondanile occasionally drifted into hard-style solos rather than Real Estate’s usual jaunty refrains, Courtney’s voice helped keep the band grounded in their mellow sound.
Indeed, bassist Alex Bleeker announced that he was “feeling mellow” after spending half an hour intermittently sipping from a blue solo cup, and became delightfully more gregarious throughout the night, constantly thanking the crowd for coming out on a school night.
Though the audience gamely received new tracks from Atlas, once guitarist Matt Mondanile and singer/guitarist Martin Courtney played the opening riff to “Easy” – the opening track of Days – it became clear that the majority of attendees had discovered their affection for Real Estate through the band’s sophomore album. Mondanile added an intoxicating psychedelic element not present in the song’s studio recording by distorting the lead guitar, coaxing the crowd into a collective sway-dance straight from the 1970s.
After taking in a few lesser-known songs from the group’s debut album and most recent release, however, it seemed as though the audience was feeling the effects of the weeknight blues. After Courtney teased the beginning of “Talking Backwards”, the first single from Atlas and the quintet’s most poppy tune to date, the energy instantly picked back up, which carried through “Horizon” and the brilliant encore.
Since the show was Real Estate’s last with The Shilohs, whom Bleeker called his “favorite band in the world”, the encore was more like a celebration. After playing “Beach Comber”, arguably their most popular song to date, Real Estate brought out The Shilohs to perform a joint cover of Neil Young’s “Only Love Can Break Your Heart” as a framed picture of Bob Marley leaned against a speaker in the background. The performance ended with the two bands’ guitarists dueling solos through the song’s outro, as Bleeker told the crowd “Really, anyone can come onstage,” – though no one was quite intoxicated enough to take him up on the offer.
Still, it was a kind gesture that reflected the vibe of their music – warm and inviting.