Martin Courtney and EZTV at Schubas Tavern, Chicago, IL February 9, 2016 | Under the Radar - Music Magazine
Tuesday, October 27th, 2020  

EZTV, Martin Courtney

Martin Courtney and EZTV at Schubas Tavern, Chicago, IL February 9, 2016,

Feb 12, 2016 Photography by Michael Wojtas Web Exclusive
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Braving a frigid, face-numbing Chicago winter, a faithful pack huddled into Schubas Tavern for a night of exemplary guitar pop classicism courtesy of EZTV, Martin Courtney (best known as Real Estate's frontman), and likeminded collaborators.

EZTV's 2015 debut LP, Calling Out, acted as a kind of corrective to the breed of sleazy, glam-leaning power pop that's proliferated in recent years. While the majority of genre's contemporary revivalists tend to favor attitude over the simple virtues of craft, EZTV is all craft. They've eliminated any gauche elements that come with this territory, having learned all the right lessons from all the right teachers (Emitt Rhodes, The Nerves, Shoes). From start to finish, they unerringly delivered three-minute relationship songs featuring straight-from-the-nose vocals, galloping basslines, and guitars that ring, chime, and jangle with immaculate rigor.

While it's easy to dismiss artists that use live settings to more or less create a facsimile of their own recorded work, there's a real pleasure that comes with watching EZTV's hyper-specific, vinyl dust-coated world become animated (you half expect them to show up monochrome and grainy in the flesh, straight out of Calling Out's cover art).

It should be mentioned that fellow Captured Tracks signee and esoteric pop connoisseur Nic Hessler accompanied EZTV on guitar. One of the night's highlights came with a full-band take on Hessler's sweet-and-sour "(Please) Don't Break Me." Though more Sarah Records than Raspberries, it was a welcome addendum to EZTV's pinprick-precise songs, which manage to be both airtight and airy; the band beat every critic to the punch by coining the phrase "Soft Tension," which probably describes their sound better than any reviewer has yet.

EZTV's minimalism provided a fitting warm-up for Courtney's set, which consisted of slightly pared down variants of songs from his 2015 solo debut, Many Moons. Seeing Courtney perform as part of a sturdy quartet tempts one to fall back on Real Estate comparisons, but hearing the songs from last year's LP stripped of their more baroque aspects only accentuated the differences between his two projects.

Jarvis Taveniere and Aaron Neveu of Woods joined Courtney, with guitarist Doug Keith rounding out the four-piece. Lean, crisp, and direct where Real Estate's performances tend toward the jammy, fluid, and exploratory, the set amplified the more earthy strengths of Courtney's solo work. He's clearly more craftsman than showman, limiting his banter to a few paint-dry, self-deprecating cracks. Yet even on a stage that's likely as small as any he's played since touring behind Real Estate's 2009 debut, his songshowever humblehave an effortless reach.

Swooping and sky-kissed, Taveniere and Courtney's harmonies helped situate these compositions in a tradition that extends back to The Byrds and Big Star. Keith, who contributed fine solos throughout, dug into the dazed country-psych guitar curlicues that allow "Asleep" to so vividly capture the gray areas between waking life and dream states. Elsewhere, the instrumental title track, which on record is perhaps the lushest song from Many Moons, took on new life as a more immediate beachside ditty.

Covers of "Harvest Moon" and "The Killing Moon" closed out the performance. Coming the day after Lunar New Year, it made for a novel way to pad a fleet but lovely set that exhausted all of Courtney's original material. Aside from providing a rather witty thematic through line, these faultlessly selected crowd pleasers also played to Courtney's principal aptitudes.

Choosing Neil Young's '90s high-water mark spoke to the warm domesticity and generous melodicism that defines Courtney's songwriting, while tackling Echo and the Bunnymen's stargazing classic reflected his growing confidence as an artisan of tastefully melancholic guitar epics. These qualities were perhaps best embodied by an unexpectedly mighty run through "Vestiges," which was like experiencing an entire autumn stream by in a five-minute time lapse, with all the loss, longing, beauty, and awe that image implies.




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