Real Estate provides an ‘I was there’ moment

January 23, 2012

The breezy songs that populate Real Estate’s first two albums have proved to be the ideal soundtrack for driving, contemplating suburban ennui or just generally lazing around. Unhurried tempos, interlocking jingle-jangling guitars and vague, image-driven lyrics — it’s a formula that sounds sublime on recordings and managed to be even more entrancing Sunday night at a sold-out Black Cat.

The show was part of a well-deserved victory lap in support of the band’s breakthrough 2011 album “Days,” but Cat-goers didn’t feel like they were watching a band enjoying its moment in the sun. Rather, they were witnessing a band just tapping into its powers, one with enough songwriting sense and natural chemistry that anything but a long and rewarding career would be an upset.

The New Jersey group was a bit late hitting the stage with bassist Alex Bleeker — decked out in a New York Giants sweat shirt and cap — announcing that he wanted the audience to shout out updates on the NFC championship game, which featured his hometown team. If Bleeker or his four bandmates were feeling any stress from the nail-biter, though, it didn’t show.

Their opener, “Green Aisles,” was a song to unwind to, a leisurely stroll along tree-lined roads with guitarists Martin Courtney and Matthew Mondanile trading gracefully plucked notes that weaved together to create a serene sonic landscape.

Most songs followed the same casual pace, yet each fit nicely together without sounding like carbon copies. It’s a trick Real Estate has mastered better than its many laid-back peers and is mostly due to Courtney’s vocals. His subdued singing — one part mumble, two parts coo — is light on words but heavy on melody, especially when it gets to the chorus. That’s when dreamy songs such as “Municipality” and “Out of Tune” snapped to attention and became singalongs before gently drifting back to their hazy state.

The influence of various cult favorites could be felt at different points. The elegant breakdown of the instrumental “Kinder Blumen” recalled the overlooked ’80s U.K. group Felt, while the extended jamming of the set closer nodded to fellow Garden Staters Yo La Tengo.

But the specter of another band that began its career with two albums of jangly, critically lauded guitar pop was impossible to avoid. To call Real Estate the next R.E.M. would be unfairly burdensome, sure, but don’t surprised if a decade from now Sunday’s show achieves “I was there!” status.

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