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Radio Underground at The Last Stop Sports Bar

Doug Collette By

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Radio Underground
The Last Stop Sports Bar
Winooski, Vermont
May 6, 2018

It's a special pleasure to catch a band on the rise, and even more so at the threshold of a breakthrough. Chicago at Tanglewood in 1970 come to mind as does The Who at Fillmore East in 1968. And then there's Neil Young and Crazy Horse on their run of California theaters in the spring of 2018.

Vermont's own Radio Underground may not have risen to that rarefied air (yet), but there was no mistaking their own highly expectant mood as they played at Winooski's Last Stop Sports Bar May 6. Effectively commencing the third day of the eighth annual Waking Windows Festival, the quartet previewed material from their forthcoming studio effort, Dark and Getting Darker (Self Produced, 2018) and, by the time they finished their abbreviated set, the sparse crowd was excited as they were.

It's no enviable position to open a show and less so to play to stragglers just beginning their day on an increasingly summer-like Sunday afternoon, but RU didn't let that dampen their spirits. The group even had the musicians following them on the bill listening attentively (and smiling as they did so). No doubt the significance of early public debuts for songs such as "Palace of Tears" and "Coming Over the Hill" lent urgency to Radio Underground's performance, and it was clearly an infectious sensation to be playing this material in front of people after laboring over it months in recording studios.

Certainly the group has its musical touchpoints, but there was little derivative about tunes such as "Hold On," either in the ragged glory guitarist Mark Christensen or the Bob Dylan-esque vocal phrasing rhythm guitarist/vocalist/ songwriter Artie Lavigne used on "Gone Gone Gone." Yet this roughly forty-five minute set was (far) less about influences and more about reminding what wondrous things can be done with two guitars, bass and drums, especially in this day of mechanized pop and turntable-ists.

It is a joy indeed to witness ensembles of musicians playing together with some measure of spontaneity and all the more so when the musicianship glows with the pride of songs well-written and performed. And RU's pacing of their performance was laudable too. The moody "California Dreaming" (no, not THAT one) set up the rousing and increasingly frenetic finish of "Lifetime" and "Out on the Water;" Andrew Bedard's grasp of rhythm at his drum-kit was most notable there, particularly as his command of unpredictable beats provided such a fine a foil for bassist Chris Simard's stable timekeeping (the latter's playing was as consistent as his impassive facial expression).

The lights had come up two numbers prior to those tunes, but no one at The Last Stop Sports Bar, staff or clientele alike, seemed irked about the unit going long. In fact, Radio Underground probably could've played through the afternoon and no one would've complained, but, instead, been increasingly delighted as time went by, if for no other reason than the pure rock and roll this foursome proffers is in such short supply, within the environs of Vermont's Brooklyn and over the river into the Queen City of the Green Mountains.
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