Live Review: The Radio Dept. @ Fonda Theatre, February 24, 2017
What’s six years here and there? Long waits are part and parcel with being a fan of The Radio Dept., Malmö, Sweden’s long running indie-/dream-pop duo. Marking their first return to Los Angeles in nearly six years, supporting Running Out of Love, their first new record in –you guessed it–six years, the duo, comprised of Johan Duncanson and Martin Larsson, played the Fonda Theatre Friday night, delivering a thoroughly enjoyable set of their brand of dancey, melancholy pop. The sold out show, upgraded from the El Rey Theater to the larger Fonda due to ticket demand, was their largest in town to date, a testament to an organic growth of their fan base–seemingly a largely a diverse set of young skewing indie kids, with the usual curious bro elements beginning to creep in at the fringes.
Drummerless, Larsson and Duncanson anchor a sparse live stage set up on bass/percussion and vocals/guitar at the left and right respectively and are augmented on tour by Daniel Tjäder, one time full time member, back in the fold on synths and programmed beats, and another young lady rounding out the sound on guitar/percussion/synths. As expected, they drew heavily from their 2016 release Running Out of Love, a markedly groovy, mostly synth based collection, opening the set as that album does with “Slobada Narodu,” Serb-Croatian for “freedom to the people” (assuming Wikipedia is correct); one of the frequent political expressions dotting their lyrics. Others in this vein include the one-off singles “Death to Fascists,” a sample-based instrumental and “The New Improved Hypocrisy,” a blissful driving tune with a particularly biting lyric, with a both of which were also slotted in the set, with their timely sentiments.
Live, their sound beefs up their so called lo-fi sound recorded versions adding dance club oomph to the bass and beats (perhaps sacrificing Duncanson’s gentle plaintive vocals in the mix occasionally) to make for some fun appropriately awkward dancing (bobbing and swaying, really) in the crowd. The set closes with a banging version of “Occupied”, which feels something like a house remix a Angelo Badalamenti Twin Peaks synth cues. For the encore, the core duo return alone, armed with guitars for a stripped down take of the “1995” from their debut full length 2003‘s Lesser Things, following which they are then rejoined by the others for a closing “Why Won’t You Talk About It?,” a standout slice of Psychocandy inspired noise pop, their earliest e.p. that dates back to 2002. It’s fitting they end the night on guitar-led tunes as they’ve hinted at a return to that earlier sound which they largely sidestepped for Running Out of Love, which is promising. Just don’t make us wait six years for it.
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