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Live Review and Photos: The Radio Dept., February 16, 2011, El Rey – Los Angeles, CA

Sometimes, I am spoiled.

Recently, a colleague named Winston Robbins took to his Facebook to list the must-see sets at this year’s Sasquatch Music Festival. High on his list was the Swedish three-piece The Radio Dept. When I inquired as to why, he explained that he might never have a chance to see them again. Was this really my only chance to see The Radio Dept. in a small room?

For a band that rarely tours, they seem to be really going for it this year, with Coachella also scheduled. And if anything is to be said from The Radio Dept.’s sold-out performance at the El Rey on Thursday, they should really give playing live a fair chance, as they seem to be quite good at it.

The night began with a dark (literally) set from Young Prisms, that created a good atmosphere of shoe-gazey introspection to enjoy the headliner. If anything was to catch me off guard, it was how ready the crowd was to have fun. Older cuts like “Ewan” and new tracks like “Heaven’s On Fire” created a near dance-party, with the keyboard-guitar-bass-fake drums setup providing enough oomph to make every number resonate. “Never Follow Suit,” another standout, found the group able to find groovey niches as easily as it found striking melodies.

The crowd hung on every word, every song intro, and every facial expression that the group offered. The girl next to me had driven from Phoenix to see the band, which made me feel guilty in a way. This was a night clearly for the fans, with a steady blend of old and new. And though it was immensely enjoyable and entertaining for me, I clearly couldn’t appreciate it as much as my new friend from Phoenix, or good Winston will in May.

What I could appreciate was the humility and genuine gratitude the group expressed. They offered heartfelt “thank you” waves between songs and even employed the always classy exit-one-at-a-time technique. This move gave each band member the chance to look the crowd straight-on and show their appreciation. And, at least from up-close, you could see the sincerity. There was even a pause for each member, like they wanted to remember the moment when they came to L.A. and conquered. Surely, the fans will. And for the spoiled rock critic, who wished he had listened to more than their most recent record in preparation, it was a performance to make someone go home and locate some more material, so that when The Radio Dept. decides to return (or if they decide to), it will be enjoyed that much more.

Or, at least, I’ll be ready for this year’s summer festivals.

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