[See Timothy Norris' slideshow here.]
James Murphy's done it all. The LCD Soundsystem frontman and DFA label head has quite an esteemed resume. He performed incendiary sets at Coachella. He wrote an album in the house Rick Rubin sequestered the Red Hot Chili Peppers for Blood Sugar Sex Magick. He scored Noah Baumbach's (whiny) film Greenberg. His newest album This is Happening was, for a minute, a threat to Lady Gaga's dominion over the charts. He saw the first Can shows in Cologne, he has a compilation of every good song ever done by anyone (allegedly).
At the LCD Soundsystem's Palladium show Saturday, Murphy did it again: He killed it.
From the show opening disco-punk anthem "Us V. Them" to the third encore, slow-dance for hipster prom, "New York I Love You, But You're Bringing Me Down," LCD Soundsystem ignited a rave for people too cool to say "rave." Cell phones were raised in the air, instead of glow sticks, for those masses who wanted to bring a piece of LCD home with them. But you can't take it with you. The LCD Soundsystem juggernaut blasted through 15 songs, showcasing the longest numbers on their first two albums. But live, LCD's grooves go deeper, the trances get spacier, and the rockouts get even more raucous.
There's a breaking point in each LCD's song; that moment when all the subtle instrumentation locks together, like turning gears that eventually catch their teeth. In "Get Innocuous," a simple drum sample grows into an 80's Detroit banger, then Murphy flails onstage crooning a Talking Heads-style vocal melody, and it all comes together when the vocals drop out and the bassline forges on. This seamless integration between live instrumentation and digital beats is Murphy's real talent as a producer. Electronic and organic bleed into each other. On the set opener, "Us Vs. Them," the turning point is nearly four minutes in, when Murphy's harmonized voice soars over the italo-disco beats and cowbell clamor.
Murphy isn't afraid to be patient. He's not adverse to making you wait for it. And by the look of the dance frenzy of tall models, men with carefully crafted stubble, and generalized drunkards, the crowd was gluttons for tension and release.
Buildups and breakdowns are Murphy's M.O. Pulling back the bow string, he then lets that sharpened arrow of rock fly. When the "Movement" broke from its Suicide lockstep into the MC5 blow out, the Palladium acted accordingly: Pandemonium.
The extremely packed floor didn't offer much dancing room, but the crowd made do, as the Amazonian models raised their tiny wrists, elbows and everything in between to the great disco ball in the sky. At one point two spotlights fixed on the spinning mirror ball, deflecting the light into all the arc deco lines hidden in the Palladium's roof. In those seconds while Murphy sweated and crooned on stage, the Palladium was revealed as its former self, a killer dancehall where rugs were cut and heels kicked up 70 years ago.
The set mostly included choice hits from LCD's first two albums, but an occasional new song snuck into the mix. "Drunk Girls" got models moving, but it essentially sounds like the theme song for a FOX television show about drunk girls. It'd be a show about drunk girls twisting their ankles, losing their cell phones, and trying to articulate their address to cabdrivers (some subtitles will be necessary). And it's catchy as hell.
But that's the goal of most big producers, create a hook and dig it into your victims, Candyman style. Murphy is no stranger to hooks, "Daft Punk Is Playing at My House" was a better endorsement of Daft Punk than their own snoozeathon video, Electroma. Live, "Daft Punk..." still rocks, especially with the stellar Soundsystem band, but, in a way, sounds dated (maybe that's too harsh, because the song is great--so let's say, date-stamped). Hearing "Chariots of Fire," "Smells Like Teen Spirit," or "House of Jealous Lovers," can whisk you away to nostalgia or a particular time whether you lived it or not. "Daft Punk..." does this. It's very much the soundtrack to shopping for meme t-shirts at the Upper West Side Urban Outfitters* It's so 2005, the year snark was born (give or take).
But Murphy seems to have dropped the snark, and even showed, gasp, a moment of sincerity when equipment malfunctions over at Nancy Whang's keyboard fort threatened to derail the show. The beat stopped suddenly, and Murphy went over to investigate. About a minute or two went by with no music, just the sound of the (maybe oversold?) crowd getting tense and increasingly disgruntled. He apologized, and declared, "Let's do it on the wurlizter," with a who-cares, show must-go-on unflappability. It was an endearing moment to witness the swagger-slathered James Murphy become a regular person for a moment.
Of course, that moment quickly passed when LCD then broke into "Yr City's a Sucker" (a strange choice to follow serious technical difficulties) and spread a "case of the ha, ha, ha's" across the audience, like some Jedi mind trick that could wipe the slate clean. Yet, Murphy's no mystic, or genius, but he's a craftsman adept at building an entire night of music, where flaws only make him better.
The force is strong with this one.
Set List: Us v. Them / Drunk Girls / Get Innocuous! / Yr City's a Sucker / Pow Pow / Daft Punk Is Playing at My House / All I Want / All My Friends / I Can Change / Tribulations / Movement / Yeah
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Encore: Someone Great / Losing My Edge / New York, I Love You but You're Bringing Me Down
*I would know, I folded blankets at the 72nd street Urban, while I interned with GWAR's record label and lived in a Harlem apartment that smelled like canola oil. If you see me at a show, ask me about working for GWAR. It's a story that necessitates hand motions, I assure you.