Review By Melissa Groth, Photos By Clarissa Villondo
I took a mini-road trip up to Frederick, Maryland for the Real Estate show Saturday at the Flying Dog Brewery. Once there I was corralled into the brewery’s gated outdoor concert space. The space is large enough to fit a few food trucks and a beer truck, a merchandise stand, plus the stage and 200-300 concert goers; but the “NO RE-ENTRY” sign, surrounding industrial buildings, and pacing police mini-force made me feel confined nonetheless. I traded some cash for beer “tokens,” traded my beer tokens for beer, then found a nice patch of grass on which to sit and drink and try to forget about feeling trapped. Trapped like a rat.
I associate Real Estate with road trips. With the summer breeze and the windows down and wide open roads and carelessness (yeah, maybe it’s cheesy, but I challenge you to listen to them and not wish you were on a road to nowhere). This association didn’t do much to help the cabin fever-y feeling, in fact it probably just exacerbated my anxiety. I was thankful when the opener, Frederick- based band Heavy Lights, took the stage promptly at 6:30. They were a good pick for opener in that their music is similar, but not the same as Real Estate. Their songs were generally faster-paced than Real Estate, but with a comparable level of mellow. Elements of blues, ska, and subtle electronics, plus a great bassist and smiling drummer, make Heavy Lights an interesting, while perhaps not totally original sounding, solid live band. I’d recommend checking them out locally if you have a chance.
Real Estate were on a road trip of their own from Cincinnati and didn’t get to Frederick in time to sound check before the show, so we were all treated to that between sets. Bassist Alex Bleeker managed to keep it from being tedious by cracking jokes and interacting with the audience. About ¾ of the way through sound check, Bleeker made an endearing mistake while addressing the audience: “Welcome to sound check, ladies and gentlemen! Enjoy a Dogfish Head!” He made sure to plug Flying Dog throughout the rest of the show.
After sound check, the band members left the stage so that they could be given a proper introduction, then made it back to start the set with “Had to Hear” off their latest album, Atlas. After their second song, “Crime,” also off the latest album, lead singer Martin Courtney admitted to the audience, “Usually we write a set list. Tonight we didn’t.” The set was cohesive without one, but they did skip two of their bigger hits, “Easy” and “Out of Tune,” off sophomore album, Days. “Horizon,” “Municipality,” and “Green Aisles” followed, keeping the audience swaying and effectively delivering me from Maryland to that sunny summer road to nowhere.
Bleeker remained charismatic and charming throughout the set, taking on the role of bandleader/cheerleader. They all seemed happy to there— lead guitarist Matt Mondanile is not only talented but also fun to watch as he seems to embody the very chill aesthetic of Real Estate’s music— but they also all looked totally exhausted. Drummer Jackson Pollis seemed absolutely miserable, and a miserable-looking musician can be a big detractor from the overall mood of a live show, but his shirt said “Smile On,” and his drumming was on point, so I’m inclined to give him the benefit of the doubt.
Mondanile’s guitar riffs are a pleasure, especially on “April’s Song,” an instrumental piece from Atlas. I appreciated his small live deviations from the recorded versions of tracks, but they were very subtle. Musically as a whole, the set was true to the recordings, which can be positive or negative depending on if you’re at a Britney Spears show or at a rock show. I expected a bit more from a live show than to feel like I was listening to a recording, but on the other hand, I wasn’t disappointed by what I did hear.
Listening to Real Estate, I have this road trip idea in my mind of being in a car, windows down, perfect weather, driving across the country. In this daydream I never end up at a destination, and I certainly don’t imagine I’m driving from Cincinnati to Frederick. The second half of the set seemed labored, and well before kids started crowd surfing to a begrudging encore (crowd surfing at a Real Estate show. Yep), I felt like it was time to turn the car around, go home, and just listen to their album instead.