Review: The Radio Dept. @ The Black Cat


The Radio Dept. played the second show of its North American tour at the Black Cat on Wednesday night, supporting last year’s Running Out Of Love. The show didn’t sell out in advance, but there was still an air of importance in the room. The Radio Dept. hails from Sweden and according to the best online archives I can find, this was its first time touring the U.S. since 2011, which also corresponds with the band’s lengthy six-year gap between its third and fourth studio albums (Clinging to a Scheme was released in 2010). The crowd was appreciative and respectful of the elusive band, cheering during the opening notes of every song, old and new.

The new tracks made up about half of the setlist and the rest sampled the band’s first three records with a couple of non-album cuts thrown in. Frontman Johan Duncanson sang and played guitar for the entirety of the set and his supporting cast showcased versatility as the three of them shuffled between guitar, bass, keyboards, drum machines, and some standalone cymbals. Before the concert, I was unsure about how well The Radio Dept.’s hazy atmospheres would translate to a live setting. Any lingering worries were immediately dispelled as the band got rolling with three tracks from Running Out Of Love, the kick drums hitting harder than on record and the synth lines more crisp. Duncanson’s vocals blended with the instrumentation in his signature, dreamlike manner. Whether it was the ominous overtones of the new material or the nostalgic atmosphere of the old, The Radio Dept. proved that its success wasn’t attributed to in-studio effects - they’re a killer live band.

The band’s style has shifted over the course of 14 years since its 2003 debut, Lesser Matters. The band has become less reliant on traditional guitar rock structures and explored deeper into dance and electronic music. But whether new or old, all of the songs take beautiful turns, switching lanes to open up into something brighter. It feels like every song has a surprise waiting in it. Fuzziness coexists with colorful piano notes and retro computer noises are juxtaposed with simple strumming on the guitar. During the instrumental “Running Out Of Love,” the urgent synth was paired with red lights shrouding everyone on stage, creating a dramatic image of four masterminds creating something sinister. A few songs later, the familiar opening riff of “Heaven’s On Fire” was met with elation and hands could instantly be seen in the air, extensions of their dancing bodies.

As the set neared its conclusion, The Radio Dept. powered through with its hardest hitting songs. The announcement of “Death To Fascism” elicited a hearty reaction from the crowd. The song, built around a short Croatian vocal sample that translates to “Death to fascism/ Freedom to the people,” shifted seamlessly between dark and light, with the two multi-instrumentalists crashing the cymbals with force. Just as it opened the show with three new songs, The Radio Dept. brought three more Running Out Of Love songs to life to close it. “Swedish Guns,” “Teach Me To Forget,” and “Occupied” felt like they were pumped up with steroids “Occupied” especially felt like the centerpiece of the show. Its spooky “Twin Peaks”-esque synthesizer joined the heavy boom-clap of the drum machine and full-force cymbal crashes to build to an intense climax and the most absorbing moment of the night. 

As Duncanson and bassist Martin Larsson reemerged for the encore, a hopeful fan yelled “five more songs!” They just played one — “1995” from Lesser Matters, a nostalgic look back on harder times. It felt like an appropriate closer — a simple song that tugs at the heartstrings, demonstrating the warmth that probably first attracted people to The Radio Dept.’s music. As I spotted fans happily snagging two or more hard-to-find vinyl represses of the band’s older albums for $35 (!) each, I could sense that this was a significant show for a lot of people, and The Radio Dept. delivered.

By Nick Adams (@nadamsnadams)