Live Review: Real Estate + Alvvays @ The Institute, Birmingham – 24/10/14

“We’re from Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island… do you know where that is?” Alvvays seem impressed the crowd does, further enhancing the lovely day they’ve been having in Brum – one of the boys even managed to score a pre-gig date with St Vincent, who’s playing downstairs tonight.

As the Canadian (see, told you we knew) five-piece strike into gear with The Agency Group, frontwoman Molly Rankin has the slouch and bleach-blond hair of Kurt Cobain, yet her heritage is her family’s country-folk group, erm, The Rankin Family.  It means that Alvvays’ eponymous debut album, which they play almost in its entirety, has a melodic gravitas which elevates it above a mere jangle-pop bagatelle – Rankin’s vocals have an eloquence and emotional complexity that make Alvvays a very special proposition indeed.  While tonight’s performance lacks a little of the album’s sense of poise, the desperate allure of Party Police and breezy energy of Atop A Cake are very much present and correct.  They finish, of course, with Archie, Marry Me, a global mega smash in any perfect parallel universe.  When one punter turns up late and asks if Alvvays were any good, his grimace suggests he already knows the answer.  Yes, they were.

Sitting out on the porch in a New Jersey suburb, lost in thought while the sun goes down.  This is the sonic stock-in-trade of Real Estate, whose ecstatically-received new album Atlas has them packed in at The Library tonight.  There’s a curious disconnect between their preppy aesthetic and their loose stage patter – before they’ve played a note, bassist Alex Bleeker has invited us all for a pint at the Kerryman after the show.  That’s as rock ’n roll as Real Estate get, their songs never departing from the mid-paced restraint of Martin Courtney’s languid vocals and Matt Mondanile’s gently chiming guitar.  Choosing to open their set with the pleasantly melodic instrumental April’s Song, it’s clear the band expect you to meet them halfway, but it’s a journey that’s justified by the bittersweet charm of cuts like Talking Backwards and Crime.  When they return for the encore, there’s a sudden frisson in the room, with the crowd urgently appealing for It’s Real, the glorious standout track from previous album Days.  All through their set, the band have attempted to whip us up into a frenzy by reminding us that it’s Friday night, but it’s a tactic that’s doomed to fail – after all, we’re the sort of people who’ve decided to spend their Friday night watching Real Estate.

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