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The Radio Dept, Cyann and Ben, Fields – Sonic Cathedral at The Legion, 28th September 2006

Tonight we’re enjoying September shoegazey goodness at Sonic Cathedral with a gig that turns into a feat of stamina, lasting as it does for apparent aeons. 'Tis the last night of Fields' three-month residency co-curating Sonic Cathedral's summer 'Sowing Seeds' season, a series of gigs that has featured many plastic sunflowers and lots of top bands swirling about the Legion to the sounds of MBV, BJM, JAMC (segueing into Jonathan Richman - nice work) and stuff. Tonight, amongst the usual liberal scattering of sunflowers and yellow helium balloons that kiss the ceiling and tickle your neck, are plastic autumn leaves that add a melancholy 'days dwindle down' air to the stage. Who knew you could even buy such things?

For some reason, Fields are on first, ripping through an excitable set and jollying us all along by sounding a lot heavier and pedal-tastic than the folksy gazeyness I'd been anticipating. Keyboardy/singer lady Thorunn looks all hippy Celtic with a medieval-stylee ribbon-thing tied round her hair - hair which I'm obliged to describe as 'flaxen'. This should be a ludicrous look but it adds to the general 'Wicker Man' mysticism the band are generating with their churning guitar vortex. As is the Sonic C way, various films flicker away behind the bands as they play, and Fields get the first half of 'The Birds' to accompany their monstrous Slowdive-with-axes feral folk spacerock. Brilliantly, as they are sweeping through the guitar rush swooning middle of frantic opener 'Song For The Fields' the film behind them swoops through an aerial shot of rolling green clifftops and a tumbling sea - it fits exactly and is a tiny accidental moment of perfection.

Rockin' the hippy Celtic hair ribbon-thing look
I venture through the cram-packed crowd meeting two Tamborines, a SoundsXP and an Eighteenth Day (hanging with a glowering Ben Swank - ooh!) en route and luck out at the bar, getting served quickly before embarking on my, 'Scuse me, sorry, scuse me' laden journey back. Jeez it's packed in here. Then there is mucho hanging about swaying gently to the likes of 'Breaking Hands' by The Gun Club (yay!) as monstrous banks of keyboards and effects-laden equipment are loaded onstage and fiddled with until they all work.

A girl trapped behind monstrous keyboards, yesterday

The Japanese girlies at the front (they're always there, innit) are starting to wilt by the time Cyann and Ben come on and plunge us into their drone-goth psyche-prog world of dark clouds and long songs. Cyann and Ben consist of a girl trapped behind the monstrous keyboards, two blokes with guitars and lots of pedal action and a bloke with a tiny drumkit. They all look a bit dour, cheer up luv! It's alright; they're from Paris you know. Apparently one of Espers makes an appearance on their new album, so they must be okay. They swoosh away, sometimes thrillingly going a bit Dungenesque (not Dungeness - ho!) in their epic tricksy noodlery, sometimes going a bit glowery in an uptight post-rock sort of way. On the whole, transfixing stuff, if rather, um, epic.

Many years later (okay at 12.15), The Radio Dept are READY TO ROCK! No they're not, but they're still great, whisking us through an all too brief seven (ish) song set of olde faves, plus songs from new LP ‘Pet Grief’. Weirdly, there's a group of loutish drunkards whooping, shouting and staggering at the front, confusing the band and irritating the punters. It's not entirely clear if they're here by mistake or are just overly oiled fans exercising their inner-hoolies to the soundtrack of soaring Scando indie-electro miserablism. Whatever, when the looping swoop of ‘Where Damage Isn’t Already Done’ kicks in to flips our lids, the drunkards react like they’re well ‘avin it and they’ve got a point, perversely, in this context the song sounds rave-ily celebratory.

S’been a while since I last saw The Radio Dept play, during which time they’ve lost their bass girl, Lisa, but gained a double-decker keyboard stand for the moustached-up Daniel. He looks like some kind of moderne vicar behind a lectern. A moment of frivolity occurs when a drunk hands Daniel a Spurs sweatband which the Swede dabs his brow with uncertainly. The drunk is overjoyed, then demands the sweatband back. This kind of thing adds an undercurrent of the absurd to proceedings and is frankly a tad off-putting, although singer Johan remains un-offput and scarily stern throughout. At one point he snaps something about hating everyone’s favourite Swedey label Labrador Records and nobody’s quite sure if he’s joking or not.

Why so blue?
Moustached-up Chez Kitten, The Radio Dept’s two LPs get a good old playing and like lots of the excited indie faces here pressing eagerly forwards I’ve been keenly anticipating this gig. Will it be ace? Will it be a bit poor? Happily, tonight The Radio Dept sound mighty and oceanic in their mournfulness, and for three unprepossessing blokes rooted behind their instruments with serious expressions they’re creating a powerful sound. Their susurrating vocals, sweeping keyboard, grave guitar and clattering programmed drums sound less claustrophobic live, the medicated, sleep-muffled sound of their records is given some air and blown clean by the whirl of noise. ‘Lost and Found’ sounds groggily ecstatic like its lovingly forcing a pillow over your face, ‘Why Won’t You Talk About It?’ is surprisingly, blammingly heavy and ‘The Worst Taste in Music’ is sinking-feeling, buttoned-up swoon pop.

At the end, the band scamper offstage and have to be coaxed back on by Nat Sonic C and convinced that despite the late hour we’re still all waiting for them. It’s been a long night, it’s been a short set, but when the music crashes back in, we all understand, ‘It's knowing you're alive through all the fuzz’.

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