The Radio Dept. – The Bowery Ballroom – March 8, 2017
The Radio Dept. speak the wispy language of dream pop, straddling the spaces between badass and poignant, in the middle of My Bloody Valentine jacked up on something and Stereolab with highlights of ’80s-synth sentimentality à la Pet Shop Boys. There’s no question the band’s influences are long and distinguished, it’s just that because of the inflection and swerve, you only hear them. Last night the benevolent Swedes graced The Bowery Ballroom with a methodically expert set. Select songs from their catalog of rock electronica dating back to 2001 were played as an almost continuous DJ set come to life. Their return to New York City promised a devoted turnout, and the room was filled with fans spanning from old faithful to newly enchanted.
“Sloboda Narodu,” the glorious tribal synth anthem from last year’s Running out of Love, opened the proceedings, immediately putting the crowd in the palm of the band’s hands, which were steady as a surgeon’s. A self-assuredness propelled the performance, with members handling their contribution to each song like a tactician whose measures are second nature. This amounted to a natural flow, with attendees instinctually following along. More than anything, the Radio Dept. just wanted to jam—that much was evident. They’ve never been afraid to embellish in flowing blankets of up-tempo, electronically contoured instrumentation. This holds true onstage, and as they leaned into every groove, the Radio Dept. made it seem effortless.
Sometimes frontman Johan Duncanson sounded like Euro contemporary Markus Acher of the Notwist. The messages of political awareness were there yet felt like they were absorbed subliminally, in hushed expression that blended into the nebulous formations of sound. You’re reminded of the import of content amidst the spell they cast when Duncanson momentarily mentioned, “This next one is called ‘Death to Fascism.’” The Radio Dept. quite simply have a knack for pushing out immaculate, steady and uninterrupted rhythms whether on record or onstage. And last night’s winding journey through more than 15 years of vibrant, animated music was a gratifying retrospective. —Charles Steinberg | @Challyolly