Some concerts succeed because the band puts on a wild, superhuman performance—the group is untouchable, its musicians are larger-than-life. Others work for the opposite reason. The band, usually elevated in our eyes by the fact of having put listened-to music into the world, comes down to earth on stage to show that they are mere mortals with weird haircuts and large, enthusiastic extended families. Ducktails fits squarely in the latter category.
Ducktails, the moniker of Real Estate’s Matt Mondanile and his shifting cast of collaborators, had gained enough of a following by the July 24th release of its fifth album, St. Catherine, to merit a five-ish-month tour throughout the U.S. and Europe. It was apparent at the Bowery Ballroom last Friday that the band has gained a real, enthusiastic following, but what made the show so great was that Mondanile was just as excited to be there as his audience.
Following the mellow opener Itasca, Kayla Cohen alone on stage playing Nick Drake-style picking patterns on acoustic guitar along with Joni Mitchell-like vocals—a beautiful but internal performance—Ducktails roused an audience that had either been standing in rapt stillness or carrying on conversations.
Starting with St. Catherine’s all-instrumental opener, “The Disney Afternoon,” they set the mood for an evening of their signature laid-back, jangly tunes. A traditional lineup of a drummer, guitarist, bassist, and Mondanile switching between synth and guitar, the music invited involuntary and gentle bopping of the head as the musicians gently bopped their own on stage.
That kind of mirroring between audience and band continued throughout. At one point, the bassist—Brooklyn-based Regal Degal’s Josh da Costa—remarked to Mondanile, “For a second I thought I saw you in the crowd watching yourself.”
The frontman, by far the most clean cut member of the band (da Costa, for example, wore a pretty spectacularly long mullet that one concert-goer shouted for him to trim), looked like his audience. That makes sense, considering that he’s from New Jersey and lived in New York for a while. He also marked his home turf calling out by name the dozen or so aunts, uncles, and cousins in the audience. It was endearing.
The feeling of familiarity also manifested in the admission that they had no rigid setlist. A couple times when the band needed to stall between songs, the guitarist played a rousing chorus of “Dreidel, Dreidel.” Aside from that song, the partially improvised lineup mostly included new tracks from St. Catherine, but the ones that got the biggest response from the audience—and the ones that were the tightest—were from older albums: “Ivy Covered House” off of 2013’s Flower Lane and “Killin’ the Vibe” from 2011’s Ducktails III: Arcade Dynamics. In addition to unconscious head-bopping, these earned some inadvertent singing along from several members of the audience.
After all of that bopping, banter, and singing, it was one of those shows where you leave feeling like you just hung out with a bunch of pals—albeit super talented ones. At the start of a tour that has Ducktails looking larger-than-life, the guy behind the hypnotic, sunny indie rock is just a guy. And the show at Bowery Ballroom was all the better for it.