Published Feb 08, 2011After waiting four years for Clinging to a Scheme, it's hard to believe that Radio Dept. fans were treated to EPs and singles clearing house Passive Aggressive a mere nine months later. Add to that an extensive North American tour that brought them to Lee's Palace, and it's a relative flood of activity for the often reclusive Swedish trio.
That flood, plus the year-end accolades for Clinging to a Scheme, no doubt helped to sell out their Toronto appearance. It certainly couldn't have come from the band's live reputation. Even frontman Johan Duncanson admitted to Exclaim! back in April that the group were less than stellar onstage: "If you come to see us, don't expect extremely confident people. Expect extremely scared people trying to do the best they can."
That quote pretty much summed up their set, as the three-piece took the poorly lit stage and proceeded to underwhelm with personality. Sans drummer, the band were tied to the tinny beats stored on their laptop to propel their songs. And while Duncanson, guitarist Martin Larsson and keyboard player Daniel Tjäder played tracks like "David", "Never Follow Suit" and "Domestic Scene" with tight precision, it was difficult to just watch them stand there in the dark and not want them to just react to something/anything.
Still, the band's detached nature certainly fits their musical lineage -- neither the English twee pop nor shoegaze bands they admire were particularly well known for their stage presence. But even My Bloody Valentine had the common decency to assault us with their sheer volume. Nevertheless, the absolutely packed crowd screamed with glee as Radio Dept. triggered each new drum loop. True to form, the band seemed genuinely surprised and a little embarrassed by the adulation bestowed upon them, particularly after set highlight "Heaven's on Fire."
Given that the group just dropped a double album of songs that didn't make it onto their three proper records, you'd think they would have stuck around for longer than an hour. But after about a dozen or so songs, they slinked off-stage one by one, returning for one last tune after an unusually long break, which made it seem as if they were coaxed back onstage by the overwhelming crowd response and not via a pre-planned faux encore.
While the band's shy nature prevailed and preserved their middling live rep, it was clear that the Radio Dept. have built their name on shimmering indie pop tunes rather than a cult of personality. And on this particular night, they certainly delivered on that front.