Real Estate (w/ Dogleather, The Babies and Black Dice) @ K&K Super Buffet - January 28, 2012
Photos: Chris / Review: E
The emaciated all-ages crowd was wrapped around the edge of the Chinese buffet’s parking lot when I arrived there at 9:45, forty-five minutes after the doors were scheduled to open, and cut in line with Chris, who was already there. Up ahead, the red neon lights for K&K SUPER BUFFET were half burnt out, so that the only letters illuminated were K SUPE FFET. I noticed the audience was mostly underdressed for the weather -- too many hoodies and not enough winter coats -- and the crowd more than doubled in size over the next half-hour, until the final Chinese buffet patrons finally stopped eating lamp-warmed crusted slop and exited.
This was a highly unusual venue for an indie rock show. The inside immediately smelled of rotting steamed seafood, and after being stamped appropriately we shouldered through the buffet lines. My theory was that the remaining food, which would have to be thrown out anyway, was included in the $5 admission, but this wasn’t made clear to us upon entry. I grabbed a plate anyway, passed on the “saunteed[sic] squid,” and loaded up with boneless spare ribs and chicken skewers (the cutlery had already been hidden from us). Beyond the buffet tables, which were clogged with patrons similarly squirreling away unappetizing leftovers as the staff scrambled to put a metal cover over everything, was a stage area fit to hold, at most, three hundred people.
“This is going to be a shit show,” reiterated Chris, as he informed me that a thousand tickets had been (over)sold for the show. He was right – although it was more like a compacted waste show, as we soon found ourselves squeezed against the rear barricade, pushing the fragile wooden railing up on its nails. The unlucky other seven hundred guests had to watch the show from back behind the barricade amongst the buffet trays.
The first opening act, Dogleather, peddled charlatan mustache rap-rock that sounded like a drunken karaoke night if the song selection were limited to Licensed to Ill B-sides. The two-man act spent most of its set crouched down out of my view, and my understanding from the Googles is that they have a local following (side note: it's not a “supergroup” if you're not playing stadiums), but they seemed a little small-time for such a large crowd. The guy without a mustache announced during his stage banter that he had just joined OKCupid “for the conversations” and gave the audience his username: Clownfuxxx “with three X’s.” I have no further comment on this detail but I thought it was worth noting. The second opening act, The Babies, was far better, performing a tight set of lo-fi pop in the vein of the Vaselines and the Raincoats. Their self-titled album from last year is available on Spotify and definitely worth a listen.
Black Dice took the stage next. At first I thought my negative reaction might be a little biased because it was after midnight, and the third opening act is just about when I start to get severely annoyed that the main act isn't on yet. But I double-checked my intuition and decided that yes, Black Dice was producing some of the most unpleasant noises I've heard outside of a pork slaughterhouse in some time. And I've never been to a pork slaughterhouse. This is the sort of band which makes music so monstrously cacophonous that one can only assume their entire audience is made up of rubes the “musicians” mock backstage while adjusting their monocles and top hats. Or the sort of band that heard Lou Reed's Metal Machine Music once without the proper context and didn't realize he was having a laugh. A quick check of the phone revealed tweets like “Black Dice are my favorite band ever!!!” and “Black Dice are blowing my MIND!” which, combined with the receptive audience, suggests that plenty of people genuinely think the emperor's outfit is spectacular. Perhaps Black Dice's gilded sparkly gown is invisible to my unlearned gaze. Then again, perhaps there's a healthy audience for pretentious dissonant bullshit one can smugly pretend to like.
My escapist fantasy of root canal faded as Real Estate began setting up. After a pretty lengthy period of stalling, Todd P took the stage and told the audience, “I want everyone to look around for a red backpack. It contains special equipment that is integral to making Real Estate's music sound the way it does.” Which struck me as an especially magical way of describing Real Estate's reverb pedals. To the crowd's great relief, the red backpack (containing reverb pedals) was discovered within a minute and Real Estate finally began playing around a quarter to two.
This review has kind of taken the tone of a qualified litany of complaints, but the band did not disappoint once their equipment problems were resolved. While many reviews – even favorable ones – have pegged the band's sound as lo-fi-Byrds-with-reverb, this description kind of disregards the uniqueness, energy and originality the band generates beyond their obvious influences. A good comparison is the way Jesus and Mary Chain were invariably described as a Beach Boys + Velvet Underground hybrid, as though musicians can plug different influences into a hybrid calculator and spit out a tuneful, cohesive album like 2011's Days, which was one of my favorite albums of last year. The band worked through most of that album, along with a handful of older songs, with warmth, energy and just a little roughness to dispel any notion that they're over-calculated or beholden to their influences. Lead singer Martin Courtney's vocals sounded distant yet warm, just as they do on record, and the slightly bass-heavy mix called attention to Alex Beeker's fine, elastic work (the studio mix is dominated by the flangy sonic space of Courtney and Matthew Mondanile's guitars, which still sounded great live but were absorbed a bit by the Chinese buffet's mediocre acoustics).
Throughout the night, the crowd shifted after each act left the stage, so Chris and I found ourselves pressed against the rear of stage area by different annoying patrons during each band's performance. As Real Estate played, Chris found himself unable to breathe without inhaling the hair products of a gangly ginger-afroed hipster who looked kind of like that guy from the Fame (1980) movie.
“You enjoying the show?” asked Chris
“I am now. But it's still kind of cramped here.”
“Oh no, I like breathing hair.”
The ginger twitched, yet did not move forward to occupy the foot or so of empty space he had available in front of him. A few minutes later someone in our group fainted from exhaustion and we left in a crowded hurry while the band played their last song. The evening was redeemed somewhat by Real Estate's excellent performance. But I will never set foot in that firetrap venue again.
Check out a full set of photos from the night below...