On an unusually packed Sunday night at the Doug Fir Lounge on February 13th, one could feel the love wafting through the air. And not because it was the night before Valentine’s Day, or because people were high on alcohol or other substances, but because the wait was finally over. The last and the only time The Radio Dept. came to town was in 2003. According to the band, only three people showed up! When you come all the way from Sweden, that’s a charity work. So no wonder it took almost eight years for The Radio Dept. to return to Portland, OR.
The Radio Dept. playing “Heaven’s On Fire” live @ Doug Fir Lounge in Portland, OR on February 13th, 2011:
Riding high on the critical success of their third LP, Clinging To a Scheme (QRO review), The Radio Dept. gained plenty of new fans, while gratifying their established supporters. Though they have moved on from the noise and distortion of their genesis a decade ago, the Swedes are still trying to peel off the shoegaze label. While frontman Johan Duncanson admits his fondness for the quintessential shoegaze band, My Bloody Valentine; he doesn’t feel the connection to the genre. Endowed with dreamy, airy vocals that recall iconic dream pop vocalists (i.e. Mark Gardner of Ride), Duncanson will have difficult time convincing the listeners to cut the umbilical chord from shoegaze. And doesn’t help that their hand-picked opening band, Young Prisms, sound a lot like – My Bloody Valentine.
The Radio Dept. playing “Never Follow Suit” live @ Doug Fir Lounge in Portland, OR on February 13th, 2011:
The fourteen-song set, plus one encore, contained a good mix of the old, the new, and the b-sides. The crowd had to take some time to contemplate when The Radio Dept. opened with the understated political satire, “Freddie and the Trojan Horse” (2007), before the brighter and more danceable “This Time Around” from their latest album unleashed their inhibition. The photographers, who always grumble about Doug Fir’s lighting, really had something to gripe about. The dark red atmosphere shielded the trio from ever becoming too visible, which may have suited the band, but an odd visual pairing to their shimmery music. With a swig of beer, a brief smile, and few words now and then, Duncanson (vocals/guitar), Martin Carlberg (guitar), and Daniel Tjäder (keyboards) produced heavenly pop songs from their modest setup. Even the denouncement of the untruthful right-wing Swedish government on “The New Improved Hypocrisy” sounded paradoxically joyous with its candor. Halfway through the set, obviously pleased with the crowd support, Duncanson smiled and said,” “Wow, This is amazing. Thank you,” before launching into “Why Won’t You Talk About It?” (2002). “The Worst Taste in Music” and “Ewan” were other older favorites. While the b-side to “David”, “Messy Enough” proved that The Radio Dept. are not going all dub-reggae on us, despite its electro-dance beat intro. After enthralling four tracks from Clinging To a Scheme, the unassuming musicians launched into “Closing Scene” (2008), appropriately to end the night, walking off stage one by one, and letting the machine finish the job.
The Radio Dept. playing “The New Improved Hypocrisy” live @ Doug Fir Lounge in Portland, OR on February 13th, 2011:
After several minutes, when it seemed doubtful that the trio would take up their post again, The Radio Dept. returned to the stage. From the pulsating melancholy keyboard, the fans knew they were in for a treat. “The City Limit” from 2003’s Pulling Our Weight EP is easily a favorite of many followers. One guy yelled out, “I love that song!” While the ever-modest Duncanson is less enthusiastic about his creation, due to its “stadium-rock” feel that swells into a crescendo – a very shoegaze-like tune with layers of distorted ethereal guitars. Sorry Johan, but if there was one song The Radio Dept. could be accused of sounding like Slowdive, this song would be it. And then the show was over in an hour, barely past 11:00pm.
After the show, all three members of The Radio Dept. enjoyed their cigarette fix outside, in the mild and misty air, while welcoming conversations from the adoring fans. Their reputation as a difficult band exceeds the truth; if you had the chance to meet them, you’ll know that they are just shy and honest guys, who don’t like the fluff. Let’s hope that Portland gave the Swedish popsters good reasons to return very soon.
The Radio Dept. playing “The City Limit” live @ Doug Fir Lounge in Portland, OR on February 13th, 2011: