Six years is a long time to wait for one of your favorite acts to return to town, even longer when you were expecting it to be just six months. In February 2011, The Radio Dept. performed in Portland, promoting their most successful album to date, Clinging to a Scheme. The Swedes were scheduled to return that November to the Doug Fir, but the whole tour was canceled. Since then, the dream pop band have sporadically played live—in South America, Asia and on the East Coast. Only when TRD’s fourth LP, Running Out of Love, hit the market in October 2016 did their return to Portland finally look like a possibility.
A lot has changed since 2011. In the Unites States, Republicans have taken control of Congress and a billionaire with no political experience has assumed the most powerful position in the world. The West Coast states legalized marijuana, while Portland has become one of the most desirable places to live, causing a rent crisis. In Sweden, Social Democrats and Greens took control of the centre-right Alliance in September 2014. Yet the public exhibition of white supremacism has been on the rise, and this is one of the concerns addressed in TRD’s latest full-length. Johan Duncanson and Martin Larsson have always been frustrated by the political landscape of their country, voiced in songs like “Freddie and the Trojan Horse,” “The New Improved Hypocrisy” and “This Repeated Sodomy.” With Running Out of Love, politics have become their main discourse. Even a band who can write the most wistfully heartbreaking songs can no longer set aside the affairs of the state as an auxiliary focus.
On the night of Monday, February 27, the convivial atmosphere of TRD’s last appearance at the Doug Fir permeated, effacing the six-year lapse. It is not common to have a sold-out show on a Monday night, in winter no less; either TRD have a healthy fan base in Portland or were able to elicit curious music lovers. This time around, a fourth member, Maja Karlsson, joined Duncanson (vocals, guitar), Larsson (bass, percussion) and Daniel Tjäder (keyboards) on stage, playing guitar and percussion. TRD have never been known to be an animated live band, but with the addition of Karlsson and the reintroduction of a drum kit, they sounded better than ever.
Kicking off the show with “Sloboda Narodu" (which translates as “Freedom to the People” and comes from the motto of the Yugoslav Partisan movement during World War II), the foursome followed with two more from their latest LP, “Committed To The Cause” and “We Got Game,” before diving into a couple of tracks from Clinging to a Scheme. While the new politically charged tracks dominated the set, it also included “Bus” from TRD's debut LP, 2003's Lesser Matters, and “The Worst Taste In Music” from 2006’s Pet Grief. The 14-song set ended with the dark dance track “Occupied.” The band returned for an encore, playing two more from Lesser Matters: “1995” and “Why Won’t You Talk About It?”
No bantering, no visual effects—just a well-executed performance that made their fans’ hearts flutter while gaining appreciation from new listeners. In spite of the solemn messages in the songs, for one night, we could forget about the turmoil that’s going on in the world and celebrate the return of The Radio Dept., whose refusal to compromise is worth the six-year wait.