Real Estate’s music is built on mood and momentum and the subtle shifts in both. At the sold-out 9:30 Club on Wednesday night, the New Jersey-bred quintet jangled and whooshed through dozens of variations on their sound while looking remarkably comfortable in front of a capacity crowd. At times, they might have even been mistaken for rock stars.
The band’s third album, the relatively sprightly “Atlas,” was released last month to positive notices from the critics and is on track to become the group’s best-selling release. While the songs are still based on the simple, jangling interplay between lead guitarist Matt Mondanile and rhythm guitarist/singer Martin Courtney, there is a sweep to tracks such as “Past Lives,” “Talking Backwards” and “Navigator” that is grander than anything on their previous records.
Those broader strokes worked when they performed the songs in front of a crowd that nodded along to every chord change and hooted loudly for an encore after a 70-minute set.
Bassist Alex Bleeker noted that Washington has always been a favorite city for the band — they played one of their first shows here and released their first records on the Underwater Peoples label, which was started in the District — and that vibe was evident all evening. Certainly that positivity contributed to the energy with which they delivered their material (keyboardist Matt Kallman added much breadth to the tunes as well), but there was a celestial scope to performances of “It’s Real” and “Had to Hear” that called to mind shimmering dream-poppers the Church.
Real Estate’s songs have always drawn thematic inspiration from another New Jersey band — indie guitar pioneers the Feelies — but on Wednesday night, Mondanile and Courtney showed that they have digested that inspiration fully and are ready to grow beyond it.
If the show wasn’t much to look at (and five indie rock dudes doing their thing really isn’t), Real Estate countered where it mattered, in guitar dynamics that occasionally reached straight for the heavens. The only thing they might have done better was actually finish those covers of “Iron Man” and “Play That Funky Music” that were hinted at. But that was a pretty minor quibble with a pretty major performance.
Foster is a freelance writer.