The Estates, 17 July @ The Zoo

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By Nils Hay

The Brisbane music scene is alive and kicking hard, and this creates problems; there are a lot of great artists out there and even if I could find a way to give up my day job and devote my life to attending gigs, I still wouldn’t be able to see them all. As with just about everything in our high-on-choice/low-on-time lives, I am forced to pick favourites.

Last Friday night at The Zoo cemented The Estates as one of my favourite up-and-coming Brissie bands.
Starting out, The Estates were a somewhat desultory four-piece playing charming, untidy indie rock in poorly lit local bars and clubs. With just over a year of hard work behind them, and the recent addition of a fifth member (violinist, Sarah Marie Hodkinson) The Estates have now chalked up their first Friday night headline slot at The Zoo and successfully launched their first EP ‘Gramophonium’.
Supported by gypsy 9-piece Lion Island and blues rockers Jack Rush & the Bad Habits, even before the headline act stepped on stage, the two-hundred-and-something strong crowd was well and truly warmed up.

For me, one of the most enjoyable about The Estates is the constant improvement. Nearly every gig I see is better than the last; the sound is richer, the energy levels are higher, the performance is tighter and the banter between songs is a little less awkward. The Gramophonium launch proved to be no exception.
The addition of the violin in the last month has added greater depth to the band’s sound – particularly in their more instrumental tracks like ‘This Young Heart’ and ‘River’ (both of which feature on the EP). Live, ‘River’ has become a truly epic piece of music. It isn’t necessarily a ‘typical’ Estates song, but it dramatically showcases the band’s strengths; front-man Alastair McRae’s powerful voice and the rolling interplay between the keyboard and violin, all held together by a sure-footed bass line and the precise pounding and crashing of the drums.
As their stagecraft improves, the band has been making more use of vocal harmony and the addition of a female voice has augmented this too, complementing bassist Tom Guerney’s baritone and lead singer McRae’s sometimes-sweet/sometimes-screeching voice.

The Estates have also added a streak of what others have dubbed ‘slack-jawed pop’ to their repertoire. This indie pop sound is due in part to the Matthew Del Favero on the electric keyboard providing everything from sugary electro trills to unsteady carnival-esqe ostinatos.

Interspersed throughout the hour-long set, tracks like the energetic opener ‘Here We Go Again’, ‘Catalyst’ and ‘Marilyn’ (all on Gramophonium) as well as brand new addition to the set list ‘Talk to Strangers’ ignited the sizeable crowd (especially the dapper gent in the panda costume – we were at The Zoo after all) into a heaving, jumping frenzy.

The pop sound was offset by some of the very first songs the band penned, which include my personal favourite ‘Zoloft’, which sees McRae at his choleric best; relentless skreighing punctuated by the percussive ruckus of MacIntosh serving up a harsh but necessary lesson in rock’n’roll to the drum kit.
Another treat was the drunken, lilting keyboards and sweet-but-sinister lyrics of ‘Murder Ballad’. This trip to the darker side marked the half-way point of the show and the beginning of the winding ascent to the final song of the night, the showstopping ‘Vida’.

There are very few bands that one could recommend based on the strength of a gypsy polka-inspired tune about a Polish prostitute. This song however, has proven to be a perennial crowd favourite, and – with the addition of a frenetic encore of several final choruses – the trademark sound of the end of an Estates gig.
What’s more, (if you like listening to free music) ‘Vida’ – along with a couple of other Estates tracks – is now up on JJJ Unearthed (Vida’s climbing the charts too – somewhere in the 60’s when I last checked).
If however, you want to be entertained, titillated and occasionally yelled at by five of Brisbane’s incredibly talented musical fraternity, head on down to the HiFi Bar in West End on Friday the 29th where The Estates are going into battle as they compete for your favouritism with a bunch of other emerging artists in the Emergenza Fesitval.

I’ve picked my favourite. Now it’s your turn.

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