Live: Sunny Day Real Estate

Sunny Day Real Estate pic #1
(l to r) Sunny Day Real Estate. Photo by Brian Tamborello.

WAREHOUSE LIVE -- 10/6/2009: Long after the days of the punk schism known as "emo" and well before the days of bad haircuts and self-mutilation, there was a period in which bands like Mineral and Indian Summer redefined "emo" music.
While the term "emo" now lends itself to stereotypes rather than to a musical genre, it's hard to imagine what would have happened if Seattle's Sunny Day Real Estate had never entered the picture. Twelve years since they last appeared in their original form and eight years after the highly influential band called it quits, the original four members of Sunny Day Real Estate reformed and embarked on a 21-city tour this fall with The Jealous Sound.
A bit of a warning: this is not a complete review. I had a prior engagement that night and ended up missing all of The Jealous Sound and the first two songs by Sunny Day Real Estate. I'm always saddened to see a third of the venue empty, especially for such an influential band, but I guess that's what you expect when you haven't toured or released an album in nearly a decade. People these days are more familiar with Paramore's cover of "Faces in Disguise" than they are with the original SDRE version, a point made obvious by the endless urging of the audience for the band to play The Rising Tide classic. Unfortunately, we wouldn't be hearing anything from their last two albums outside of "Guitar and Video Games," as original bassist Nate Mendel was too busy with the Foo Fighters and unable to participate on How it Feels to Be Something On and The Rising Tide.
As expected, the crowd was doing the stand-still, that late-'90s dance craze where everyone listens to the music while standing perfectly still, occasionally nodding to the beat to keep blood flowing to their brains. Despite the lack of movement and the general lifelessness of the crowd, though, it was clear that the audience was deeply engaged in the performance. SDRE doesn't inspire to acts of energetic expression or manifest as sing-a-longs, but instead reveals itself in the subtle acts of the audience. Dead silence during each song was followed by a long and raucous applause that lasted until the beginning of the next song. Songs were ingrained into the mind of each audience member, to the point that a deaf man would've been able to feel and understand the structure of songs through the unified shifts in the stance of the observers or the slightly more forceful head bob of the audience.
This wasn't just a concert, this was an experience for many of the audience, many of whom had waited a decade to hear it. That's the kind of devotion you would expect from SDRE. While the rest of the world was caught up in the angst and aggression of the grunge era, Sunny Day Real Estate decided what we needed was to turn the ugly into something beautiful. They made music that's not easily digested or even palatable to some, especially with lead singer Jeremy Enigk, who wails out perfectly-pitched, ethereal verses that seem to drag out too long and feel out of place when laid aside the accompanying music created from the discarded pieces of punk, goth-rock, and 1980s Brit-rock.
It's a musical experience that folds in and meshes together in a way that isn't forced or mismatched but quite the opposite, instead -- it's something that feels natural and strangely beautiful. It's music that causes the audience to cheer for five minutes, getting louder as every second passes, to demand an encore and still walk out satisfied despite a 70-minute-long set. It's Sunny Day Real Estate, a band that helped define a musical "genre" despite having nothing in common with the sound.
It's hard to summarize something you've been waiting to hear for nine years. While other bands have been thrown to the wayside, left for moments of nostalgia, Sunny Day Real Estate still remains relevant in my musical rotation. They're a band I've admired and almost idolized for so many years that it's hard to believe that their live performance exceeded my expectations. It comes down to this: to all the naysayers who declare, "You should never meet your heroes or you'll be disappointed," I say, "go see Sunny Day Real Estate." END