Review: Woods and Real Estate at the Imperial

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It’s not the first time folk rock “pop shamans” Woods and indie Americana darlings Real Estate have graced the stages of Vancouver, the last times being August and March, 2014. Both bands released albums last year; With Light and Love and Atlas, respectively. The co-headliners were well matched in their feel-good summer spirit and airy guitar mysticism. High ceilings and an extensive light system made The Imperial a fantastic mimicry of that open air festival feel, without the imminent hearing loss. All night the sound was crisp and not once was did the volume tip into painful.

Woods took the stage first with the briefest self-introduction, electing to focus more on music than banter for their set. The crowd was in no hurry, instead choosing to meander their way forward as the music played with breathing space to spare. The first couple tracks included “Leaves Like Glass” from their latest album, opening the show with easy warmth and approachability. Vocalist and guitarist Jeremy Earl seemed to float above the band with a voice that’s too gentle to be gritty, but too textured to be anything else. There was something very unassuming about the five piece band, three of which were dressed in pale blue button-down shirts and jeans, like an accidental uniform.

Woods has a stage presence that’s unassumingly grounded, with reserved body language yet a palpable inner energy peaking through; blink and you’d miss it. By the third track “Shining,” the band shifted from reproducing their studio recordings to surpassing it. Something imperceptible fell into place—maybe it was the percussion finally syncing up just right—and the result brought us into an embryonic otherworld. Almost intimate, definitely comfortable, it felt just like watching a casual jam session. “Bend Beyond” from their 2012 album of the same name further blindsided me with raw freneticism, versatility, and the barest hints of funk. Jeremy proved his calibre on the guitar as red lights flashed lazily from behind like warning signs. Another track from Bend Beyond, “It Ain’t Easy” brought us back to the acoustic, with refreshing and unexpected synthetic tones from the keys that contrasted beautifully with the slight country twang. Woods sounded more settled in now than before. Next came “Shepherd” which saw the crowd bobbing easily and singing along. The next three tracks were a display or Woods’s quiet professionalism. The transitions between songs were so quick they were barely there. Aaron Neveu on drums was focused and methodical, holding the beat without spirit. The instruments melded together seamlessly, each melody and harmony was hardly discernible from its sonic surroundings. John Andrews provided understated keys and tight vocal harmonies which hinted at real care behind the singers’ natural tones.

After a quick “thanks for coming out tonight,” we were warned that it was time for the last song and they launched into “With Love and Light.” The audience was hyped as Woods delved into the noisiest track of the night. Feet shook atop effects pedals and the percussion hit hard and precise while Jeremy’s vocals smoothed out to the effect of a smokey lounge. Aaron, with Chuck Van Dyck on bass, kept a rolling tempo that built steady anticipation towards a high energy final chorus.

Overall, Woods impressed with nimble shifts from chill and sweet to psychedelic whirlwind. They charmed the audience with their harmless image and their unexpected depth.

As Real Estate took the stage, the crowd surged forward ever so slightly with a few pockets of enthusiastic cheers. It was obvious this band was the real draw for this show. With “April’s Song” we were introduced to a youthful serenity, less ladened by nostalgia than Woods. Real Estate’s dreamy summer sound wouldn’t be out of place by a body of water or in a road trip movie montage. Alex Bleeker holds down a solid bassline, keeping the carefree tunes tethered enough to not float away. “Had to Hear” was next, and fans matched lead singer Martin Courtney on every word. For their third track, Real Estate left Atlas behind for “Green River,” from their self-titled debut, where Martin and Matt Mondanile’s ragtag harmonies replicated the fuller sound of group vocals for an added warmth. “Municipality” came next with expansive instrumental work that was more spacious than any of the set so far, followed by crime.

Martin has talked about how Atlas explored his thoughts of the future and present. The repetitive, echoing guitar line in “Crime” created that sense of detachment from time, as if we were standing on the sidelines looking in. Matt’s lyrics are direct and heartfelt, wafting over a crowd that can all connect to timeless thoughts we’ve all had at any age. “I don’t wanna die, lonely and uptight.”

For the rest of the set, Jackson Pollis on the drums and Alex on bass carried us with strong rhythmic sensibility from the jungle drums of “Fake Blues,” through the loping baseline of “Out of Tune” into the anthemic catchiness of “It’s Real.” By the time we reached “Talking Backwards,” I was convinced the set had become progressively louder and more low-fi. Perhaps it was just Real Estate and their ability to drag us into their own world built of lazy afternoons, either way we were all swaying to a honey thick trance that left us smiling.

“Green Aisles” brought their set to an end on a sleepy note, but the crowd wasn’t satisfied. Chants for one more song seemed to go on too long, but eventually the band returned, led by Matt in his comfortable blue cardigan. They played “Younger Than Yesterday” and “The Bend,” feeding off the energy of the crowd to wrap up the night with distortion and wah-wah effects.

The audience was smitten with Real Estate’s lack of urgency and leisurely melodies and their eagerness to praise Vancouver. I was hooked by their strong rhythm, but found certain song cut-offs to be awkward and overlong. Of the two acts that night, Woods appeared to be braver in their live performance. Even so, both bands were well worth seeing and crafted a live experience wholly separate from their recorded work. Anybody who wants to have a good time without sacrificing personal space or over-exerting themselves would have walked out of the Imperial with lifted spirits and a dopey smile.

Woods: 8.5/10

Real Estate: 7/10

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