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Real Estate, The Scala, London (3/5)


There are certain shows at which it is cool to be seen. Not the glamorous, sellout arena tours of multimillion-record selling megastars, but a performance by an ascendant act in the midst of their rise to prominence.

Real Estate's show at the Scala tonight certainly falls into this category: the much-praised Brooklyn-based quintet, whose sophomore album Days was warmly received earlier this year, are a band it's cool (and very easy) to like. Gazing around the tragically hip crowd this evening, it's clear that Real Estate have made an impact.

Combining clean 1950s guitar sounds with understated dream-pop backing, overlaid with lo-fi vocals and a smattering of synths, Days is a refreshingly mellow album with a distinct signature, and its contents form the bulk of the setlist.

Opting to introduce a bass-heavy sound mix to what is normally a treble-laden sound, Real Estate produce a more forceful sound tonight than on Days, Alex Bleeker's nifty bass playing adding a bit of grunt to the softer melodies emanating from lead guitarist Matthew Mondanile and lead singer Martin Courtney.

Courtney himself, almost Cocker-esque with his large-rimmed specs and spindly frame, acts more as band leader than frontman, never truly letting rip with guitar or voice, yet his style fits perfectly into Real Estate's considered, musically articulate sound. Theirs is a mellow blend of indie more suited to living rooms than club nights, the lilts of 'Green Aisles' or 'Municipality' artfully gliding across the venue.

This same bookishness, however, also limits the show itself. The product is superb – tracks like 'Out of Tune' and 'Wonder Years' offering heavenly slices of wistful nostalgia – but there's an energy lacking in its execution. Every song is played immaculately, but a few rough edges would be welcome, were they to lead to more excitement on and off stage; the crowd offer occasional sways and nods, but buzz has been replaced by appreciation, and consequently the mood is a little subdued.

To some extent this is a double-edged sword – the reserved, at times almost shy nature of Real Estate's music is a big part of their appeal, and sacrificing that would be churlish – but you can't help but wish for a bit more vigour at times. Ultimately, the show's polished, finely played content is overshadowed by a modest delivery which makes the gig less remarkable, for all its musical endeavour and ingenuity.