The Rock Shop’s success is also a sign of the rapid economic shift going on in this area, as Park Slope seems to expand further outward every few weeks. Probably the newest high-end addition to the neighborhood – on 4th ave. between Bergen and St. Marks – is South Brooklyn Pizza. Just a few blocks up from The Rock Shop, they’re selling pizza at $4 a slice, using mouth-watering organic ingredients like fresh mozzarella and basil.
That’s not say that The Rock Shop is a gentrified establishment. Unlike Union Hall – which, though only a few block over, feels infinitely more Park Slope – concert-goers aren’t all impeccably dressed in black, and there are no Bocce courts or lounges with comfy chairs and a small public library’s worth of books. However, its success certainly comes from an indie-loving, refined clientele who are willing to shell out $8-$10 dollars a night to see new bands that, after all, might not be so good.
On Thursday night I heard more than one person remark on the sea change happening around them. “This area is completely blowing up,” was a common refrain, sometimes said with excitement, sometimes with resentment, but always with a sort of resigned surprise.
Although the night was, in theory, a celebration of The Rock Shop, the audience was almost exclusively there to see the headliner. The “Secret Musical Guests” that The Rock Shop had advertised on its calendar turned out to be The Radio Dept., a Dream Pop group that’s extremely popular in their native Sweden and commands a large devoted indie following internationally.
And deservedly so. Their records I can take or leave, but their live show is exquisite. Barely moving, concentrating deeply on each downstroke or chord change, Johan Duncanson, Martin Larsson, and Daniel Tjäder lack any rockstar pretense. Yet from fleeting smiles and the barest of nods, it’s clear that they love listening to the music they make. Their stoic stage manner forces the audience to listen closely as well, since there’s not much else going on.
The Radio Dept.’s music rewards this sort of deep listening. A drum machine churned out surprisingly aggressive beats, opening up all three live players to weave their intensely lush sonic blanket over it all. Duncanson sang in his airy, faraway tenor and strummed fragile chords (mostly major 7ths and 9ths, for you theory nerds) that echoed in the bones. Tjäder provided the background ambience with his warm keyboards sounds. Larsson switched between bass and guitar, softly picking counterpoint around Duncanson’s block chords. All three played only as much as needed, not breaking the hushed aura they’d created, trusting the drum machine to push the music forward.
As I touched on above, all this beauty just doesn’t come across in their recorded material. Maybe the production muddies everything up too much, or maybe records are necessarily more two-dimensional than live shows. Whatever the reason, the way to experience The Radio Dept. is, ironically, live.
In any case, aside from a weird instrumental number at the end of the set – maybe a new song they were still getting the kinks out of? – and a drunk guy who kept on yelling and ruined the mood, it was a great set. I plan to see them again, and soon.
Even though The Radio Dept. was the overwhelming draw to The Rock Shop last night, I was also impressed by the openers, Heaven. Their melodic psychedelic rock was powerful, monolithic, darkly pretty. The sound guy lit them in dark aqua-blue, which fit the underwater feel of their music. Ryan Lee Dunlap and Matt Sumrow’s haunting harmonies add something new to the shoegaze formula. They’re playing Glasslands THIS FRIDAY NIGHT, and if you’re in the area and looking for some good music to start your weekend, go check them out.
The Radio Dept. recently toured the U.S., and it doesn’t look like they’ve got any more shows planned for the near future. Check their website for more info.