LCD Soundsystem Switches On, Again

Every once in awhile a band comes to town and completely conquers the stage, leaving a wake of ecstatic fans behind. LCD Soundsystem is one such case, as they performed at San Francisco’s Outside Lands, August 5th, 2016 to an anxiously awaiting crowd, once again taking their place at the top of the electro-funk pantheon, delivering an explosive dance party via 14 perfectly chosen tracks. Every song on the set list was played at their “farewell” concert five years ago at Madison Square Gardens, chronicled in the exceptional film Shut Up and Play the Hits (2011) and audio album Live at Madison Square Gardens. Many of us who came to know LCD after the “farewell” tour have cherished that film and live release as it perfectly captured how astoundingly great this band’s live shows had been. Fortunately they hewed closely to that winning formula last weekend at Golden Gate Park.

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For this show, the stage was just a bit tighter than before, the band squeezed into a small space in the center, all manner of drums, percussion, electronic keyboards, and room for half dozen crack musicians with lead man, vocalist, multi-instrumentalist James Murphy up front, and able to wander the small passages between. Crammed in with all that gear, the presentation seemed somehow intimate, despite the huge audience of over 60,000 at the festival. It was from start to finish, one of the best concerts of the millennia to date.

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LCD Soundsystem, as described by writer and musician Nick Sylvester is “the sound of a man digging himself out of his own skull… an extremely smart and sensitive man wrestling his inner Klosterman” (by the way, Klosterman is a quirky American author and essayist who writes thoughtfully about American popular culture). This gets at the heart of why these confessional, observational songs speak to so many, songs like “Losing My Edge,” sporting these lyrics:

I’m losing my edge
I was there.
I was the first guy playing Daft Punk to the rock kids.
I played it at CBGB’s.
Everybody thought I was crazy

LCD_Murray_72dpiOn the studio albums, nearly everything you hear is played by Murphy – in concert he has a troupe of musicians, changing at times based on availability. It’s amazing really, because as the music is presented, it’s incredibly tight, each musician playing his or her part with precision, in unity. The best of their songs start with a beat, sometimes laid down by a drum machine, but more often by steady drummer Pat Mahoney, sometimes by a keyboard sequence triggered or played by Nancy Whang or Gavin Russom. As the song progresses, additional contrapuntal lines are drawn, the beat is intensified, bass, guitar or treated electronics are added, until the drone or melody comes clear and captivating, and Murphy adds vocals, working his rich baritone and quavering top-end. Interlocking riffs are added or taken away to change the dynamics, which ultimately build into ecstatic abandon. This is the main recipe for the band, and it’s done wonders for space rock, afro funk, new wave and alt/indie bands past and present. The most frequent touch point I could think of was the Talking Heads, Remain in Light era work with Brian Eno – or more recently the kind of dynamics mastered by Arcade Fire (who opened for them at that last Madison Square Gardens show, and for whom Murphy co-produced the album Reflektor). Murphy stirs it all up and makes something new and unique. It’s beautiful frenetic dance music that’s utterly irresistible.

LCD_SUAPTH_Cover_72dpiThe aforementioned film, Shut Up and Play the Hits (2011) directed by Dylan Southern and Will Lovelace, is as spectacular a concert movie as any in my collection. The entire three-and-a-half show is captured, along with interviews and a portrait of James Murphy as he prepares for the event, intended to be their last. The shoot is clearly professional, multiple camera angles fixed and handheld, both close-up and long/wide provide viewers with a bird’s eye perspective, illuminating how the large band works together to create the whole. The show kicks off with three of their best songs “Dance Yrself Clean,” “Drunk Girls,” and “I Can Change.” At the end of those tracks, at 20 minutes into the film, you’ll know if this music is for you – don’t be surprised if you’re singing “I Can Change” over and over again for days, such is it’s status as an alluring ear-worm! At the end of the film, as Murphy croons the slow burner “New York, I Love You But You’re Bringing Me Down” staring and smiling wistfully at the sell-out crowd while the balloons fall from the rafters, it’s impossible not to feel a bit sentimental, a bit of loss for their disbandment. Fortunately for the music world, Murphy and his collaborators are back. Let’s hope they remain, on record, and in lights.

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Video: All My Friends (from Madison Square Gardens)

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=a9wnbPUgq6c

LCD Soundsystem (live band)

James Murphy – vocals, percussion, synthesizer, organ, keyboards, piano, kalimba
Tyler Pope – bass, samples, synthesizer, percussion, organ
Pat Mahoney – drums, synth pads, vocals
Nancy Whang – synthesizer, vocals, piano, organ, samples, Wurlitzer
Gavin Russom – synthesizer, percussion, piano, Wurlitzer, clavinet, vocals, vocoder
Matthew Thornley – guitar, percussion, percussion [electronic percussion], bass, synthesizer, electric piano, samples
Al Doyle – guitar, vocals, percussion, synthesizer, bass, clavinet, trumpet, organ, glockenspiel

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Adele Says “Hello”

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Adele brought her current tour to the Oakland Arena August 2, 2016, just after two sold out nights in San Jose. The concert was fabulous in every way, from the production design, to the sound, the band, and Adele herself, who was in great spirits and exceptional voice.

The concert production (featuring creative direction and stage design by Es Devlin) focused appropriately on Adele and her vocal performance. There were no dancers, no special effects. She arrived on a “b stage” placed near the rear of the floor, starting off with “Hello,” and over the course of the concert did several songs from that position. But most of the time, she stood in front of her band that was arrayed within a diamond-shaped stage behind, at times behind a gauzy curtain that could be opaque or translucent, allowing for some nice multiple-exposure visuals via 12 projectors, and some shadow play when the band was lit from behind the curtain. One thing noticeable was how frequently white spotlights were trained on Adele with a lack of color in the rear and front-stage visuals, except for during the James Bond theme “Skyfall” when she and stage were bathed in red light. In one very impressive moment, Adele returned to the b stage for several tracks, ending with the closer “Set Fire to the AdeleRain_72dpiRain” at which point she was surrounded on all four sides by real falling water, giving the illusion of her singing within the rainfall. Then for the encore, graffiti cannons fired away, sending up white strips of paper each adorned with a lyric, or phrase that appeared to be hand-written… my wife and teen girls scooped up tons of it! Lighting designer Patrick Woodroffe and LD Adam Bassett and the stage design team did her proud, achieving the intended focus on her performance with these elegant touches.

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As to Adele herself, her voice was in perfect shape. The songs she close spanned her catalog sounding as good as or better than the original studio versions. The set list was well balanced, the only cover being a sweet take on Bob Dylan’s “Make You Feel My Love.” Most were played faithfully to the originals, with two tracks done acoustically, “Million Years Ago,” and “Don’t You Remember.” Adele generally stood in place, whether main or b stage, swaying or turning a bit all while projected on front and rear stage screens to get everyone in the audience a great view.

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What was unexpected for this uninitiated attendee is just how personable and funny Adele is. She greeted fans warmly, even pulling one couple on stage for selfies. She told stories from different points in her career, often in a self-deprecating way that was very endearing. There was a lot of this between song chatter, but it never wore thin, particularly since so many of her tracks are melancholic, a fact Adele herself pointed out, admitting that a lot of her songs are depressing. Yet there were enough upbeat tracks in the playlist, and between those and the banter, there was a celebratory air in the room.

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All in all a wonderful, heart-warming and entertaining evening from this pop megastar, who deserves every accolade.

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