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Live Review: Sunny Day Real Estate @ Howard Theatre — 5/7/24

It’s hard to fathom that it’s been 30 years since the release of the seminal album Diary by Sunny Day Real Estate. Mostly because I can remember listening to it for the first time in college as I was trying to figure the world (and myself) out. It came out around the same time as a lot of records I ended up loving were released. Rodan’s Rusty and Unwound’s New Plastic Ideas were just two records that came out the same year and, though similar, there was something that Diary had that kept me coming back to it again and again.

Right from the start, you hear these angular guitar lines and melodic bass, right before frenetic drums kick in. But it was Jeremy Enigk’s voice cutting through the distortion like a beam of light that drew me in. That combination of sweet then abrasive in both lyrical content and the instrumentation was compelling.

For the anniversary, Sunny Day Real re-recorded the 1994 album, adding new track, “Novum Vetus” to the track list — their first recording in 10 years. To commemorate the release, Sunny Day Real Estate embarked on a tour where they play the entirety of Diary. And recently, the band stopped in DC’s Howard Theatre to a sold-out house.

As I often do, I showed up early (or what I thought was early) to the Howard Theatre to find a line already stretching around the venue on May 7. But it wasn’t just the size of the crowd forming, there were fans who had seen Sunny Day Real Estate since their beginning alongside new fans in high school or, like I was when I first came across the band, in college.  It’s not surprising, though. Sunny Day Real Estate’s music, even on their debut, sounds just as vibrant and relevant today as it did 30 years ago.   

With the lights down, the members of Sunny Day Real Estate made in onto the stage, each illuminated by sparse yellow light, as repeating guitar tones ring out to start “8,” from their second record, LP2. It has to be said at this point how electric this performance was from the very beginning. Dan Hoerner (guitar/vocals), Jason Narducy (guitar/vocals), Chris Jordan (bass), and Enigk bounded back and forth from one side of the stage to the next as the powerful drumming of William Goldsmith thundered across the crowded theater.

“Fuck, yeah! You guys sound so good!,” Dan Hoerner told the crowd, hearing how it seemed like everyone in the venue was signing along. And it wasn’t just the singing, as several fans crowd-surfed along the front, including someone dressed in a bright yellow banana costume.

Watch the official music video for “Novum Vetus – Live at London Bridge Studio” by Sunny Day Real Estate on YouTube:

Having the chance to see Sunny Day Real Estate again was a thrill, but it had to be on a different level for younger fans. I struck up a conversation with a dad who brought his daughter to see the band. Hearing these songs and knowing how much they meant to me back in college, I was heartened to think of how incredible this moment must be for her. 

Anthemic songs like “47” pulsed with an excitement that was palpable. But there was one song I didn’t think I would have the chance to witness. “Pheurton Skeurto” is unlike anything else on Diary and I was curious to see how it would be performed live. With its piano and bass beginning before it explodes into a cacophony of sound and then back was incredible live. It also made me think to myself, Sunny Day Real Estate really is one of those bands that sounds great on record but even better when they’re playing to a crowded venue.

The band ended their regular set with the last track on Diary but returned to play several other songs, including “Pillars” and that new song, “Novum Vetus.” A great set that gives me hope for future Sunny Day Real Estate shows and possibly (fingers crossed) new music down the road.

Sunny Day Real Estate continue their tour through the USA before wrapping up in the Fall.

The setlist included:
8
Seven
In Circles
Song About an Angel
Round
47
The Blankets Were the Stairs
Pheurton Skeurto
Shadows
48
Grendel
Sometimes

Encore:
Pillars
Rodeo Jones
Faces in Disguise
Novum Vetus

Here are more photos of Sunny Day Real Estate performing at the Howard Theatre on May 7, 2024. All photos copyright and courtesy of David LaMason.