Tag Archives: dance

LCD’s American Dream

Ban=ck in the day, a very very long time ago, we would have called LCD Soundsystem “totally bitchin!” They performed this year both at the Bill Graham auditorium in San Francisco, and just the other night at the Berkeley Greek Theater.  Our night was the second of three sold-out shows, on Saturday April 28. The band delighted the anxiously awaiting crowd, once again taking their place a the top of the electro-funk pantheon, delivering an explosive concert consisting of 16 perfectly chosen tracks. Many of these tracks were played at their “farewell” concert 7 years ago at Madison Square Gardens, chronicled in the exceptional film Shut Up and Play the Hits(2011) and the live album Live at Madison Square Gardens. I cherish that film and as it perfectly captures how astoundingly great this band’s live shows had been. Fortunately at Berkeley they hewed closely to that winning formula, as they did for their “comeback” two summers ago at Golden Gate Park.

LCD2018_5

LCD2018_AmericanThe band’s latest album American Dream (2017) was featured via 4 songs, “Call The Police,” “Tonight,” and “Emotional Haircut.” These are fab tracks from the new record which rates highly in their catalog, surprisingly fresh after a rather long career, certainly helped by a long break and time for Murray to D.J. it up a bit in his favorite clubs. Other than the four new ones, the staples were, rightfully so, on full display – beginning with set opener “You Wanted A Hit” and closing with “All My Friends,” a crowd-pleaser if ever there was.

LCD2018_2

As to staging, the band stays rather close together, surrounded by all manner of drums, percussion, electronic keyboards, and space for the bassist and drummer 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 number of musicians. Lighting is simple but effective, a giant glitter ball hung top center stage. It was from start to finish, once again, one of the best concerts of the millennia thus far.

LCD2018_1

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.

On 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. The performance is incredibly tight, each musician playing his or her part with startling accuracy yet requisite live energy. The best of their songs start with a beat, sometimes laid down by a drum machine, but more often by precision-driven 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. 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. 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 professional, multiple camera angles fixed and handheld, both close-up and long/wide angles provide viewers with a bird’s eye perspective, illuminating how the large band works together to create the whole.

The movie 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 is a band 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 electro-funk earworm!  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.

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

And new touring member, Korey Richey – percussion, synths, piano, vocals

LCD2018_3

 

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.

LCD_Band1_72dpi

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.

LCD_Color_72dpi

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.

LCD_Fog_72dpi

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

LCD_Band2_72dpi

Madonna on Ice

Madonna_MaterialOn October 19, 2015 the ice lay mainly beneath the stage, as Madonna brought her multi-media extravaganza to the San Jose arena, normally the home of our local ice hockey team. The tour is in support of the recent leak/release of the album Rebel Heart. That record is one of Madonna’s best since 1998’s Ray of Light, with over two-dozen songs that cross genres, from dance tracks to ballads, delivered with some of strongest most resonant vocals on record. Sample “Unapologetic Bitch,” a supremely catchy dis on a former lover, or “Ghosttown,” one of her best love songs of recent years. The title track possibly offers a glimpse into Madonna herself:

So I took the road less travelled by
And I barely made it out alive
Through the darkness somehow I survived
Tough love – I knew it from the start
Deep down in my rebel heart

This followed by “Beautiful Scars” seem to cap a record that represents this artist with work that invites the listener to take her as a whole person, scars or not.

Madonna_SpanishThe show’s set list predictably favored the new release with nine selections, along with twelve songs spanning as many prior releases. On one end of the spectrum, new track “Devil’s Pray” reflected on the evils of drug addition, while “Body Shop” was a sexy play on words, set against a backdrop of the titular auto repair set. For those looking to hear some of the 80’s work, “Burning Up,” “True Blue” – a sing-along with our host on ukulele, and encore “Holiday” served up some fulfilling dance-pop. The best was “La Isla Bonita,” accompanied with flamingo guitar, everyone adorned in traditional Spanish attire. Other early tracks were made part of medleys, and changed radically from their original versions, which reduces their impact a bit, while still touching on special memories. Best surprise of the night for us was the inclusion of the ballad “Frozen” from Ray of Light, one of those tracks that displays Madonna’s vocal range and the depth and impact of her lyrics.

Madonna_Fisheye

The staging on this tour was, as usual, expansive and bold. The stage extended from one end of the arena to the other via cross-shaped catwalk. Set pieces included the grand entrance via descending cage surrounded by exotic warriors, the aforementioned auto shop set, and a huge table set resembling that of the last supper. These shows are akin to Las Vegas productions, much like veteran diva Cher, complete with hi-def video, large band, dancers, and lots of props and production value. One nit, the video screen configuration and content, as well as the dance troupe and choreography was impressive, but not on par with prior tours such as the shows supporting 2008’s Hard Candy.

 

Madonna_supper

Should we expect someone of Madonna’s fame, in the middle of this kind of massively produced multi-media event to express deep thoughts or very personal sentiments? If so, that’s something missing in this show between the lights, videos, dancers, and stagecraft. Other artists like Pink have walked this tightrope, allowing for what seem like personal moments, time to express something honest from the heart. For others it seems like years of massive press coverage, paparazzi, and prying eyes build a wall of protection, and a veneer of attitude and quips triumphs. It would be reasonable to assume Madonna could be affected in this way and at times during the two-hour spectacle it seemed Madonna_Danceso. Nonetheless, at one point she gave a shout out to a few fans that had followed the tour from city to city, and there was a simple moment of grace and vulnerability when she danced alone and at length, traversing the long catwalk to the hit “Music.” And, during one interlude, after a fan near the stage expressed his adoration, her retort was one of humility, something akin to “Oh you want me, you don’t know what you’re asking for!” Other than those moments, what’s missing from these shows are more opportunities for Madonna to go off script, chances to hear her reflect on the origins of a song, or more broadly her life and depth of experience surviving a career that’s spanned more than thirty years. Without it, the show is a display of attitude, of titillation with less intimacy, but probably what we should expect to be fair, given the scale of the presentation, and this star’s massive popularity.

Recently during an interview with radio personality Howard Stern, we did get to spend time with the person, more than the persona, and it made for riveting listening. At one point, after Howard asked how long she could keep this up, Madonna said that she intends to forge ahead, that eventually she wants to do some unadorned acoustic gigs, at smaller clubs, to be closer to audiences. It’s clear she wants to connect, and fans will be the better for it, as we certainly admire M’s drive, her strength, flaunting social conventions, and pushing boundaries. We will be back for that show, but in the meantime, as to any quibbles, Madonna says it best:

I think you’re confusing me with somebody else
I won’t apologize for being myself

Madonna_holiday