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.
The 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.
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.
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.
The 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)
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