After spending all day busting ass in an attempt to lock down that American dream of homeownership, the irony of attempting to get away from it all by spending the evening watching a band called Real Estate didn't exactly evade The Spin. But even that Morissette-ian feat of coincidence couldn't keep us from watching the New Jersey-native indie darlings tear it up ever so gently for a sold-out crowd at Exit/In on Saturday.
As we approached the Rock Block, we couldn't quite tell if there was a band onstage or if Exit/In's house music got a hell of a lot more wind chime-y since the last time we stopped in. It was the former. Pure X, the Texan chill bros who probably didn't intend to kinda name themselves after laundry detergent, were locked in some kind of folksy space groove onstage, repping Austin psychedelia's softer side with a sound that melded together into a slurry of ethereal fuzz pop. Which was charming, to be sure, but didn't seem to leave much of an impression on the crowd, which kept its conversation at a dull roar for the duration of their set.
We can't really blame the few hundred folks giving Pure X the old Nashville Welcome, though. Pure X's style of psych folk seemed tailor-made for background music. We will say they had a lot of stuff going on: a talkbox hooked up to a bass guitar, a mounted bongo drum replacing a rack tom, a full complement of tiny condenser mics, the aforementioned wind chimes. So. They had that going for them.
Not long after Pure X wrapped and we waited out the mass of 30-somethings who apparently make up Real Estate's core demographic to get a beer, the men of the night appeared onstage, complimented how attractive we looked (thanks?) and went straight into "The Bend," a cut off their latest record, Atlas.
Let's face facts here: Real Estate isn't the most exciting band on the planet. They're charmers in boat shoes, an adult contemporary band for audiences that aren't willing to get down to Gin Blossoms singles quite yet. And you know what? That's totally fine. For what Real Estate may lack in thrills, they more than make up for in being one of the best-sounding bands (and thanks to the magically colored light show, best-looking) we've heard at Exit/In in a long while. Props to the band — and their sound guy, a dude named Rick — who coaxed from those amplifiers some of the creamiest tones we've ever heard on the Rock Block.
Mainly hitting the highlights of Atlas, along with choice cuts from older records (including our personal fave, "Get Real" from 2011's Days), the band's tone was as on point as we could possibly imagine. Compared to the last time we caught them in town — on the second floor of Hard Rock Cafe during a Scene-sponsored concert series — it was revelatory. But there were also fewer jalapeño poppers at Exit/In, so we guess it's a trade-off.
The crowd never really made it past "medium energy," aside from one guy in khaki shorts who was arm-dancing up a storm by the bar, but they managed to make more of an effort as recognizable singles, like the recent "Talking Backwards," drew their attention. Real Estate isn't the sort of band that will instigate a dance party, but hey, we had a good time. And we'll be jazzed to see them again in just a couple months when they bring their tightly orchestrated charm offensive to the stages of Bonnaroo in June — even if they don't bring Rick and the Technicolor light show along with them.
The Spin spent a chunk of Monday revisiting pioneering art punks Television's unfortunately scant catalog — not just their landmark 1977 debut Marquee Moon, but also 1978's Adventure and 1992's self-titled reunion record — in preparation for their show that night at Exit/In. Of course, it's the eight smart, knotty, melodically complex songs on Marquee that have knocked us out since we first heard them back when we were burgeoning little record snobs, and it's those eight songs that still truly hold up. Like, for real.
We were more than just a little disheartened to find that Television's show (originally slated to go down at the much roomier Marathon Music Works) would be moving to Exit/In due to underwhelming ticket sales. Of course, we never mind seeing a show at Exit — it's one of our favorite rock clubs in town, with sound that we can all agree is significantly better than that of Marathon. But having just attended Real Estate's sold-out show in the very same room two days prior, the image of an at-full-capacity Exit/In was still fresh in our mind — and an at-full-capacity Exit/In was not what we were seeing when Tristen commenced her set at 9:03 p.m.
Thankfully, though, a steady stream of showgoers trickled in throughout the local songstress's solo set. It's been a couple of years since we've seen Tristen without her backing band, and on Monday she retooled a handful of familiar songs (like "Catalyst" from last year's acclaimed C A V E S) and tossed them in with a few new ones, including "Into the Sun" and "New Old Days." The former was a slow-burning ballad, while the latter was an up-tempo rocker that dropped to half-time about midway through, and we hope to hear recorded renditions of them before long.
By 10 o'clock, the place was humming with young punks, old punks, familiar faces and kindly strangers, and if it wasn't a sellout, it was sure as hell close. Television entered to a backing track of church bells, proceeding to tune and stretch and noodle around casually. Frontman Tom Verlaine called for some stage-lighting adjustments — citing the unflattering shadows that harsh lighting can cast on gentlemen of a certain age — eventually bringing it down to a dimness level about equivalent to your living room at dusk. Finally, mercifully, Verlaine and his pack of legendary proto-punks dove into "1880 or So" from the self-titled record before moving on to Marquee Moon's much more familiar "Prove It."
What ensued was a breezy, phenomenal set featuring all the hallmarks that made Television one of a kind when they exploded onto the New York scene 40 years ago. Like, literally 40 years ago — on March 31, 1974, Television played their first CBGB's show. Far out. Of course, Richard Hell (who left the band before Moon was even recorded) wasn't there, nor was lead guitarist Richard Lloyd. (Does that mean we can technically call this version of Television the Dick-free lineup?) But Lloyd stand-in Jimmy Rip did indeed rip, entangling and entwining his parts around Verlaine's as drummer Billy Ficca played all of his weird, flashy fills and triplets on the hi-hat and ride cymbal. Fred Smith, truly underrated MVP that he is, laid the foundation and provided the only non-disorienting element.
Now, the Marquee Moon songs — "Elevation," "Venus" and a chaotic but still transcendent "See No Evil" — served as mile markers throughout the set, stuck in between Adventure numbers and pleasant surprises like the 1975 single "Little Johnny Jewel." Somewhere past 11 o'clock, Television stretched out on a long, spacy Middle Eastern groove that we couldn't quite place, until an associate informed us that it's an unrecorded live staple by the name of "Persia" that's long been in the band's repertoire. But if we had to offer one criticism of an otherwise gobsmacking show — and we're admittedly nitpicking a bit here — it would be that the excessive downtime between songs slowed the pace of the set and lost the band a little bit of steam. Each time Verlaine would call for another lighting adjustment or request some water (not "cold or sparkling," but some just-plain water), we'd shuffle our feet anxiously, awaiting the next brainy rock 'n' roll number.
But who can really complain after hearing a spot-on set-ending, jammed-out rendition of "Marquee Moon"? No one, that's who. After a 90-minute set, we were fairly convinced that Television wouldn't be back out for an encore. But hey, we've been wrong before, and we'll likely be wrong again. Verlaine led his crew back onstage to play "Guiding Light" as well as a cover of The Count Five's classic garage-rock stomper "Psychotic Reaction" that, truth be told, fell the hell apart toward the end, cuing the band's rather unceremonious exit. But it's just as well. The Spin got to see a band that by and large shaped our tastes as youngsters, and we got to see them play a great set to a full house. We heard Marquee Moon live, for God's sake, and that's certainly not something we thought would ever happen back in our burgeoning-little-record-snob days.