The Radio Dept. Plays Their First Show in Toronto

The Take Media / Genny Castillo, 2011

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These days, I’m not the only one passionate about Sweden. Toronto is slowly jumping on the hip Svensk bandwagon. The Fjällräven bags, the love for Robyn, the Cheap Mondays, and previous sold out shows by El Perro Del Mar and Lykke Li are all symbols of a city usurped by Swedish coolness, and the Radio Dept. no less is part of that trend.

On the windiest of Monday nights, the ethereal Swedish indie-pop band swooned crowds at Lee’s Palace. In their 10+ year career, this is the Radio Dept.’s first time in Toronto, and fans were wide awake in anticipation for their shoegazing dream-pop debut.

Let me tell you, Lee’s Palace is not a place conducive to falling in love. The venue is stale and duct taped to death, in dire need of an interior makeover. Upon entering the washrooms, one literally has to climb into the stall, fearing old urine stains and general wetness.

At the doors, I was rudely rejected multiple times for mysteriously “not being on the list.” I encountered a woman in a black puffy jacket, not working the doors but in a peculiar authoritative position, who made Kelly Cutrone of People’s Revolution seem like an angel.

“I'VE ASKED YOU TWO TIMES TO GET OUT OF THE AISLE,” she screamed after my constant rejection. “NOBODY WANTS YOU HERE. YOU'RE NOT ON THE LIST. YOU CALLED THE PR LADY AND SHE DIDN'T PICK UP? THAT'S BECAUSE YOU'RE NOT ON THE LIST. SO GET OUT”.

Ouch.

Fortunately enough, I had met Daniel Tjäder, keyboardist of the Radio Dept., when we worked on a project during my exchange semester at the University of Copenhagen in conjunction with the city of Malmö, Sweden. Daniel and I had since become friends. After eating Thai food with the band and sound crew and discussing the importance of Swedish pizza, I was highly anticipating the show.

The situation at Lee’s Palace started looking up once I finally got into the venue. Everyone in the crowd was overly nice; strangers were saying “Hello” and starting conversations with me. Frank Yang of Chromewaves even lent me a Canon lens for my camera. How very un-Toronto!

In addition to the general niceties, I could tell the fans of the band were utterly devoted and passionate. I even heard “Tack så mycket” after one song, meaning “Thank you very much” in Swedish. Renowned for their shyness, the band didn't interact much with the audience. Vocalist Johan Duncanson explained that they had been “hiding in Sweden” all these years with no money, unveiling their reason for the casual neglect of Canada.

For such an ugly venue, the Radio Dept. comforted us with their soft and cuddly music. Personal highlights of the show included “Heaven’s on Fire” and reggae-influenced “Never Follow Suit,” two of my faves from the new LP “Clinging to a Scheme." This is their shortest release yet, but it's more refined than previous albums. The show mostly comprised of tracks from that LP and the newly released “Passive Aggressive: Singles 2002-2010.” At times, the set seemed flat; I almost wished there was a video projector of nostalgic grainy film in the background to accompany the heavily layered and emotional music.

But I was most impressed by the finale, where each member left the stage one at a time as music played from the keyboard, eventually fading off. It was a mysterious exit that I had never witnessed in live music before. Maybe it was a tradition unknown to me, but I felt complete from that moment on. The message is loud and clear for the Radio Dept.: Canada wants you back very soon.