With the weather calling for freezing rain and something called ice fog, Tuesday seemed like the perfect night to curl up at home with an album by Swedish trio the Radio Dept. The band plays chilly, reflective music, but the songs are just warm enough to make for an ideal listening companion to precipitation dripping on the windowsill.
Staying home certainly would have been better than venturing to a sold-out Rock & Roll Hotel to see the band perform live.
The stage was cloaked in darkness, the members exuded negative charisma and took extended breaks between songs that only encouraged the incessantly chatty audience to blather away. How was it possible that this band, responsible for a decade's worth of songs so crisp and expertly crafted, couldn't play a similarly engaging concert? (First night of tour difficulties can only be blamed for so much.)
Some songs fizzled due to frailty. Johan Duncanson's wispy vocals floated into nothingness while his elegant guitar lines were barely audible. That was due to an entirely inappropriate amount of bass that sabotaged the rest of the set. There was more low-end thump than in a Baltimore club on a Saturday night, not exactly fitting for a band that specializes in intricate subtleties. After a while the messy mix almost became a blessing -- at least the booming low end offered something tangible to grab on to.
Fan favorite "Heaven's On Fire" was a rare moment of liveliness, something well short of a rave up but with enough bounce and plinky keyboards to break the somber spell. It came too late to salvage the set but at least served as a reminder of the band's skill. And it also served as a reminder that there was actually a band playing on stage. Crowd members milled about after the set's conclusion and seven minutes later the trio emerged for one last song. But maybe the audience wasn't waiting for an encore; maybe they simply never realized the band stopped playing in the first place.