Three years since I left Portland for NYC, the former city’s late-night food truck excursions, karaoke make-out sessions and forever gray, forever drizzly winters seem remote like a hazy memory of an ex-lover’s touch. On Friday night inside Music Hall of Williamsburg in Brooklyn, Portland-based timeless pop/rock act Radiation City unlocked past glories/misadventures on Hoyt, Burnside, Belmont and many other streets and intersections whose names I forget. Of course these memories existed a continent away, if not a lifetime, but for the band’s half-hour set all of these ghosts felt present in one room.
I counted 22 people, including myself, when I walked into the venue’s main floor seven minutes before Radiation City’s showtime as the first of two openers for The Rentals. Quite a change from when I witnessed Radiation City perform before a packed partisan house at Portland’s Doug Fir during Musicfest Northwest 2013. (I traveled back for Portland’s then-answer to SXSW.) To their credit the band appeared nonplussed by the headliner-to-opener, west-to-east coast role reversal. Rather, they appeared eager and at ease in the Big Apple. Between songs vocalist/keyboardist Lizzy Ellison and guitarist/vocalist Cameron Spies waxed poetic about loving NYC and its cool kids. Bassist Dasha Shleyeva, a new addition from when I first saw the band, also provided a welcome bit of spunk and bassface to the proceedings.
Radiation City’s set alternated between songs from its previous albums and EPs and new ones that will presumably appear on its forthcoming third album. The older numbers highlighted the band’s ability to harness pent-up emotion to maximum effect then blast it away with a wall of sound, either through a combo of beaming voices acting as waves of light on “Babies” or via Ellison’s wail/cry at the close of “Find it of Use”. Ellison and multi-instrumentalist Patti King struggled to contain their laughter when reverb from another band’s covered equipment became a phantom hissing part of “Park”, the set’s rockiest tune. The two women later sang and played keys during The Rentals show.
The most immediate of Radiation City’s new batch of songs recalled surf rock, and later surf crashing against rocks. At its outset, Spies probed with the questions, “Where do you come from? Where do you go?” The song’s grandeur and sweep reached a critical mass with Randy Bemrose’s swelling percussion and Ellison and King’s wordless harmonizing.
By the time the band played its finale, “Find it of Use”, the crowd numbered around 100 or more people. “One more song, one more song,” a handful of guys behind me chanted after the final song’s conclusion, one of whom jokingly threatened a riot if no encore happened. Neither the encore nor the riot occurred. No need. Radiation City had supplied more than enough Portland feels for one night.