The Radio Dept. delivering odd but entertaining set

A review of The Radio Dept. at the Middle East Downstairs on February 4, 2011

, Contributing Writer

Touring in support of their brand new compilation album, Passive Aggressive – a collection of singles, b-sides and rarities from the past decade, The Radio Dept.are on the road for a tour of North America. The band hit Massachusetts last week for a night at the Middle East Downstairs in Cambridge, delivering an eclectic set that despite a few odd moments, entertained.

The Swedish group are an unassuming bunch. The three members, Johann Duncanson on guitar/vocals, Martin Larsson on guitar/bass and Daniel Tjader on keyboard (who also bears an uncanny resemblance to Nick Swardson), took to the stage and proceeded to shyly begin playing. They worked through a mixture of songs from throughout their whole career including the piano driven “Heaven’s on Fire” and “This Time Around”, both off of last year’s Clinging to a Scheme, as well as dipping into the vaults with solid renditions of “Ewan”, b-side “All about Our Love” and “The Worst Taste in Music”.

As a dream-pop leaning band, The Radio Dept. are content to let atmospherics swirl around and for the vocals to get obscured and mixed in with layers of keyboard sound. Even so, the vocals, at times, were a little too lost in the mix. One prime example of this was “Never Follow Suit,” a song with fairly prominent, strong vocal melodies on record, but didn’t hit as hard and thus suffered in the live treatment. When the vocals were flushed out, like on the breezy “David”, the results were gorgeous and really helped to propel the show along.

The show was at times a lethargic performance, as The Radio Dept. went into a few too many ballads during the second half of the set. Still, they always managed to work themselves out of the rut and deliver a gem at the key moment. “Ewan”, a subtly toe-tapping number that sounds a bit like early period Death Cab for Cutie re-imagined as an electro-pop band, came as welcome relief and for once the band’s quiet, relaxed demeanor fit perfectly.

There are few things during a concert as certain as the encore. A presumption, perhaps, but nonetheless one that has become woven into the fabric of the show to the extent that bands often plan the songs they want to save for the encore ahead of time. Yet, an uncertain pause settled after The Radio Dept. wrapped up their main set. With some hesitation and humor that the band took the stage again as Duncanson  declared, “We’re kind of against encores, but we’re also very vain people, so thank you”. As if to hammer home the point, the band played one song, and then after a brief discussion decided that was it and left the stage for the last time. It was an odd approach, but then The Radio Dept. definitely seem to operate in their own world, and luckily for the audience, it’s a world worth witnessing a good portion of the time.

San Francisco-based shoegaze band, Young Prisms opened the night with squalling guitars and echoey vocals, playing for about half an hour before making way for The Radio Dept.

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