A certain amount of eccentricity is vital to the creation of good art, so artists enjoy a wide berth when it comes to things like maturity, manners and general social development. I love me some art and music and books and film, so I am usually willing to overlook the fact that about half the artists I know — in particular, the ones who are more eager to refer to themselves as "artists" than to make actual, you know, art — behave like fucked-up little teenagers a lot of the time. (With social media, this information is more accessible than ever before: A parade of narcissism and quirky affectations marches daily down the news feed.)
It's all the more refreshing, then, when talented artists eschew the obnoxious-artist archetype and come as they are. In a 2009 interview, Real Estate frontman Martin Courtney told The Village Voice that his band's name comes from his post-college attempt at a career in real estate — a relatively brave admission for a guy whose band knocks around the grit-fetishizing Brooklyn loft scene. Courtney sings Cheever-like lyrics about the suburbs. And in a song on last year's unassuming jangle-pop masterpiece, Days, he imbues the phrase inner tube with a poetic weight I wouldn't have thought possible. The video for that song, "Easy," stars hilarious Videogum blogger Gabe Delahaye and includes a subtle homage to a Sopranos episode. Maybe they're pretentious jerks in real life, but all I ever think when I listen to Real Estate is, These are my people.
The band was performing at the Bottleneck in Lawrence last Saturday, and I'd been jazzed about the show for months, but I almost didn't make it on account of Friday night — my 30th birthday. About that night, all I'll say is that there came a point when I was shaking my ass into somebody else's ass, air-guitaring the twin-guitar solo at the end of "The Boys Are Back in Town," and screaming They're hangin' down at Dino's in my terrible Phil Lynott voice. Does that sound lame? Because I can assure you, it was not.
A keg of Boulevard Wheat had been provided for the occasion, and the great thing about keg parties is that usually some beer is left in the keg the next day, and because it'll go flat, you feel a certain responsibility to drink it. On Saturday, after consuming a shameful amount of food at Winstead's (justified as a "birthday meal") and then staring at the ceiling and moaning for two consecutive hours, I met up with about nine dudes and started back on that keg. The plan was to ride out to the Real Estate show in Travel Quest, which is a gigantic old luxury van owned by a guy I know named Nato. There are reclining bucket seats, curtains on the windows, lots of fancy cupholders, and a back bench that folds down into a bed. Nato wasn't even there; he just lets people borrow TQ when they feel like it.
"Maybe we should bring the keg in the van?" I suggested. That idea was rejected.
"Maybe we should do keg stands?" I then ventured. I get kind of excited around kegs.
It'd been many years since my last keg stand, and as I was being hoisted up, I realized that I'd forgotten the procedure. Keg stands are not like riding bikes. Was I supposed to hold the valve and dispense it into my mouth? Or does somebody else do that for me? Who gives a shit, I thought, and crammed the valve into my face and started guzzling. I chugged on that thing until the brink of vomit. OK, so maybe I have my own way of acting like a fucked-up little teenager.
Nobody did a count. "You guys are supposed to count it out!" I gasped, upside down, a pool of slobber and beer draining from my mouth.
So I went again, but I was too full by then and only made it to four, and then everybody started clowning on me. "That was the second one I did!" I said, pacing around and belching violently. But nobody was listening. After somebody else tried and failed — perhaps keg stands are best left behind with one's 20s — we piled into Travel Quest and hit the road.
Lawrence's finest were out Saturday night, and our creepy van did not escape their eye. A police car rolled into the lot behind Love Garden as a mass urination and pot-smoking session was under way in some semi-secluded bushes. Instead, two cops hopped out of their car and asked some wobbly undergrad on New Hampshire Street for his ID
"It's cool; he's with me," said the kid's drunk, also very young-looking friend.
"How about let's see your ID, too, then," the cop said. Uh-oh.
We missed Ghosty but made it in time for Twerps, a Feelies-ish Australian band whose members, along with most of the audience, appeared to be about 15 years younger than me. The floor filled out for Real Estate, which tours as a five-piece — two guitars, a bass, keys/synths and drums. Apart from a few harmonies that were either omitted or fell flat, the band delivered on all the promise of Days — the pretty, reverb-y vocals, the breezy strums, the loose structured jams. We even got a cover of The Kids in the Hall theme song, further confirming my hunch that Real Estate is my kind of people. All those wasted miles/All those aimless drives through green aisles/Our careless lifestyle/It was not so unwise, Courtney sang on "Green Aisles." Not a bad summary of the last 30 years.