Radiant Bliss

How to survive "Coldplay disease"

Man, the lighting guy for the Radiant CD release party at the Granada last weekend pulled out all the stops. Giant swirls of light cascaded down the art deco walls; purplish backlighting highlighted the band; kinda psychedelic orange patterns crisscrossed the ceiling. Dude, save something for the New Monsoon show!

But the Radiohead-worthy visual spectacle was appropriate for a band such as Radiant, and not just because of a punnish connection to their name. The group—Levi Smithon vocals and guitar, Jon Schoemaker on bass and keys, Dragan Jakovljevic on guitar and Daniel Hopkins on drums—is a study in earnest dramatics. They are all ebb and flow, Sturm und Drang, hope and angst, as should be young Christian men in their 20s. Their songs may suffer from over-sincerity, but they are well-written and well-thought-out. They may list to the side of affectation, but they also demonstrate a heartfelt side. Call it "Coldplay disease": the condition wherein a band writes pretty good songs, occasionally even a great song or two, but suffers from melodrama.

Thing is, Radiant plays the part well and for all it's worth, unapologetically mining emotional depths and reverbed chords, and hundreds of people who had plunked down their dough for the show ate it up. The entire scene begged the question: What do you do with a band that clearly aims to be serious and important but wouldn't sound out of place in a Budweiser commercial?

The show began with the video for the obvious single "Way You Make Me Feel," as good a tune as any you'll hear on the radio. Let's just sum up the video this way: There are lots of images of photos on a sidewalk being stepped on, haggard faces of old black men, that kind of thing. The tune kicks off with Brit-pop jangle, infused with chiming keys, all of which are catchy bits of pop, but is brought down by a boring verse melody. The chorus switches gears a bit, siphoning the song's Brit sensibilities into a very Dallas, almost Americana feel.

The lyrics ride the fence in between sweetness and cliché: "Time it comes and time it goes/Through our fingers and our soul/It's felt/Long-lost love in history/All I have are memories..." The lyrics coupled with the swirling music, frankly, make for a cheesy song.

But it's also catchy in some parts. Though it aims for great heights with all the drawn-out vocals and sweeping, swooping instrumental work, "Way" is your basic anthemic sing-along tune, one in a long tradition, from "Freebird" to "Champagne Supernova."

Sure enough, when Radiant kicked into "Way" mere minutes after we had already heard it via the video, the all-ages (and by "all" I mean "people under the age of 22") crowd that packed the house sang along to the chorus as if it were halftime at a futbol match. The lighting effects, meantime, were in full-tilt boogie, backlighting the handsome band members as they cruised through the song.

It would be easy to indict the scene as overly earnest. It would be easy to write it off as quasi-Radiohead caca. It would be easy to simplify it into a teenage moment.

But more than that was going on. Sure, the Coldplay disease infected the room, but Radiant clearly made some connection with its peers. The lighting and fog machine (yeah, there was a fog machine) helped; atmosphere's half the battle. But, judging from the extremely young crowd and their enthusiasm, it was more than technical hoo-haw that sucked everyone in. What was truly happening: Four very nice, peach-fuzzed young men barely out of their teens had a crowd of well more than 300 singing along, arena-rock style, with as much emotion and verve as they were ever going to muster. In an age of irony and snot-nosed commentary, dozens and dozens of folks were whisked back to some Journey concert that happened long ago before they were even born. They seemed happy. Maybe it was a teenage moment after all.

 
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