Live Review: Martin Courtney at the Casbah, January 19, 2016

Martin Courtney
Photo credit: Georgia

Martin Courtney of Real Estate fame took us on a road trip up the coast last Tuesday. His easygoing indie rock sounds included bouts of sleeping in flower fields off the side of an expansive two-lane highway while taking a road trip.

Courtney’s solo debut Many Moons, released in October of last year, might be dubbed a concept album for its themes of passing time, phases of life, and nostalgic dreams. Played in its entirety and pretty much in order of appearance on the album, Many Moons made it clear that, while Courtney may have driven the project with his compositions, he certainly wasn’t riding solo. With Courtney and Co.’s classic VW camper filled with 12-string guitars, a drum kit, and a bass, the audience was invited to sojourn with them for a hypnotic session of Zen observations about life in its continual orbit. Each revolution is new and different yet the trajectory remains the same.

Take for instance the lyrics of “Vestiges,” where the line, “Phases they will come and they will go / And with each passing day / It becomes easy to say / The more things change more things stay the same” was essentially a memory of the future. “Airport Bar” was a tribute to the beginnings and ends of journeys, a liminal state of coming and going, where “When just being here / Is to recycle a single day / I can pass the time / But I can’t undo the changes once they’re made.” Tangentially, in “Foto,” Courtney chimed, “It doesn’t look much like you anymore / The past is just a dream / You’re not the same as who you were before / Who you were before / Doesn’t matter anymore.”

During the song “Focus,” Courtney reminisced that he was “Sometimes sentimental for the past / I have been known to put my life under glass / It all comes into focus / The trick really is not to try.” All of that may have been to say that, while life past was still life, it doesn’t take particular focus to see what is blatantly in front of you here and now. But he also existentially offered up the idea of remembering from whence you came with each new period of time in “Before we Begin” with, “Discard the plans that we made / And stare into the sun / Easy now, don’t be afraid / It’s where we all came from.”

Quite notable were the encores of covers the band recently learned. The reverb was turned up and opener Matt Kivel was invited back on stage to sing “Moonage Daydream” in a nod to David Bowie. Clearly stepping outside his comfort zone, Courtney persevered with the help of the heavy reverb, and the performance was embraced by the crowd. The band slowed down to a sweet, romantic rendition of “Harvest Moon” (Neil Young) and a folk-infused “Killing Moon” (Echo and the Bunnymen), both to which the audience swayed. Despite not “following the theme of the evening,” Courtney closed with a cover of “Major Leagues” by Pavement, which perhaps wasn’t too far off-kilter considering the transitions in life Many Moons surmises.

Overall, the set read as polished, intentional, an even careful. The level of artistry and musicianship remained apparent in the execution of carefully orchestrated yet easy-going tracks, which carried the simple yet poetic lyrics through. And while the subject matter may have left one’s head spinning bit, the tranquil melodies remained planted on terra firma.

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