The Hollywood Palladium
Nov. 17, 2017
April 2, 2011, at Madison Square Garden was supposed to be the final LCD Soundsystem gig. It wasn't supposed to sell out, and yet it did. It also wasn't, as it turns out, the final LCD Soundsystem gig. Here they are again, back with one of 2017's best albums in American Dream, their fourth.
Purists are annoyed. Angry, even. Die-hard fans and social media warriors have rued the day James Murphy decided to become reborn as the leader of this band of rebellious electronic noiseniks. They worshipped the perfect ending he curated for them. Many of them were there in the final throes, which were famously documented in the film Shut Up and Play the Hits. And now it doesn't feel like such a historic moment because LCD Soundsystem wiped the dust off their stacked amplifiers and rose from their self-pronounced death.
On Friday night at the Palladium, the first of a five-night run of sold-out shows, Murphy wears his usual suit with a white T-shirt underneath, the electroclash Frank Sinatra. He takes his suit jacket off for a song. He puts it back on again for another. On. Off. On. Off. And so it goes, a reflection of the to-and-fro indecision he had over whether LCD should make a comeback.
The story goes that after the band's dissipation and after Murphy did a few other projects, such as his 2ManyDJs collaboration Despacio, he wrote a bunch of material. It was staring him square in the face that the material sounded like LCD Soundsystem. So he had no choice but to do it as his former band. Oh, and then his pal David Bowie got involved. Bowie asked him if it made him uncomfortable to go back on his word, to re-form the band. Murphy said yes. “If you’re not uncomfortable, then you’re not doing anything,” Bowie responded.
Murphy, being the perfectionist, idealist and workaholic that he is, was not content to get the band back together unless it was as good, if not better, than the LCD Soundsystem of yore. They sought to make amends for their premature last hurrah. As guitarist Al Doyle told The New York Times, the impetus was “to be so good that people forget.”
So then: a high bar to set. The five-night run at the Palladium is so long that Murphy announces it as four and then corrects himself. As his drummer introduces “our host James Murphy,” Murphy retorts, “I am literally here all week. These are your jokes this evening.”
The occasion is felt among everyone here. Outside the Palladium is an enormous banner already celebrating the mere fact of five sold-out shows. The crowd takes an inordinate amount of extra time to be funneled into the venue. A festival atmosphere looms large. The banter between punters is already quite lively even before entering the venue. They have come chemically enhanced and indeed ready to “forget” the past. They are exceedingly thankful for another LCD Soundsystem present.
The lights go down and the synths moan and groan as the LCD machine roars its way back into existence. Congregating with his players at the back of the stage, Murphy gets everything in order. Then the giant thudding drums of "Oh Baby" jolt the room awake. During this first number and right on a dramatic disco cue, a giant mirror ball above the band's head is exposed. It spins over the crowd, darting sheets of white light into their eyes, like long searchlights seeking the good times on their faces. By the time Murphy leads the room into second song "I Can Change," the shapeshifting, jumping and shoulder-surfing of the floor has become contagious. The whole room is bouncing off the walls.
“You guys good with putting your phones down?” asks Murphy, sheepishly. “I see 'em, and it's weird.” He makes "OK" signs with his fingers. Everyone complies. He has spoken.
Murphy may be renowned as a creative dictator, someone incapable of running a band as a democracy, but his request to the crowd is not the plea of a control freak. With invigorating deliveries of both "Call the Police" and "Get Innocuous!" to come (the latter of which sounds as enormous in its rave-instigating proportions as it did the first time you pressed play on Sound of Silver), you realize the other truth of why Murphy had to get the band back together again.
There is a strange, inexplicable thing that happens when a mass of human beings throw their limbs around a space next to one another. First comes sweat. Then comes community, mindlessness and the unexpected pleasure of a full-body smile. That's a moment people can't plan for, but it's a happiness that we chase on a daily basis. Murphy understood that nothing prideful should deny the people the importance of uninhibited dancing. Dancing is what society needs right now. While American Dream is not an overtly political album, there's an urgency to its Talking Heads/Bauhaus/Banshees vibe. The type of dancing that Murphy wants to provoke is the closest to drug-induced countercultural post-punk raving as possible. That has been his intention from the start.
Allow me a digression. In Lizzy Goodman's incredible 2017 oral history Meet Me in the Bathroom, which documents the early-2000s New York scenes and the rise of LCD (among many other acts), there is a brilliant passage from Murphy's DFA Records co-founder Tim Goldsworthy in which he tells the story of the first time Murphy ever took ecstasy. Everyone who was there recalls that it was a transformative moment for Murphy, in which he went from being a snob who didn't get dance music to suddenly understanding what electronica could do and what his purpose was in it. As Goldsworthy says of Murphy's decision to take that life-changing pill: “He buys about 20 packs of Juicy Fruit because he’s heard or read somewhere that you chew a lot of gum when you’re high. Within the first hour, he’s so excited that he’s handed out his chewing gum to everybody in the club, so there’s now a whole nightclub full of people chewing Juicy Fruit.”
In the Palladium, it feels like everyone is chewing Murphy's pack of Juicy Fruit. "Tribulations" gets the rowdiest early chemical reaction from the room — a throwback to a debut album that came out 12 years ago but hasn't aged a day. After "Movement," Murphy addresses us to check in. “Just a quick rundown,” he says. “We’re going to play a group of songs. Then we’re going to leave and go to the bathroom. Then we’re going to come back and play more songs. Just so you know.”
After a rousing rendition of "New York I Love You but You're Bringing Me Down," a song about the changing face of the city he loves (“Like a death of the heart/Jesus, where do I start?/But you're still the one pool where I'd happily drown”), they leave the stage. Hilariously, the theme tune from Curb Your Enthusiasm plays over the PA. Then they return once more. “Thanks very much, you’re very nice,” says Murphy. He pauses, unsure. “En masse it seems that you’re kind, but how could I know?”
"Emotional Haircut," a highlight from American Dream, receives as many body slams from the fans as the old faithfuls. "Dance Yrself Clean," however, takes them into one final burst of vogue cardio. The blue and red flashing lights remind one of cop cars, lending the room a sense of urgency, as if the authorities might be on their way to shut down all this unruly fun. Then the light from the stage produces an orange amber hue over the crowd. Not quite an emergency red, more a glow of compassion, affection even. And it's time for "All My Friends." Strangers hug each other. Clothes come off. As the band exit the stage one last time, the sound of Bowie's "Changes" rings through the Palladium.
"All My Friends" has forever been an emotionally climactic song, but it now has new meaning. Like "Someone Great," a sublime moment from the gig's first half, a song originally written about Murphy's deceased therapist, it recalls Bowie. During "Someone Great," I see a woman on her friend's shoulders pointing at the sky and singing the repeated lyric: “When someone great is gone.” I think, wow: Bowie. But it's "All My Friends" and its conclusive longing that takes you over the edge.
“Where are your friends tonight? If I could see all my friends tonight,” we all sing in unison. Which friends does Murphy wish he could see? If it was really Bowie who gave Murphy that kick up the arse he needed to get back on that stage, then he's still working miracles from on high. Thank you once again, Starman, from the bottom of our disco revivalist hearts.
Set list below.
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I Can Change
Call the Police
You Wanted a Hit
Change Yr Mind
New York I Love You but You're Bringing Me Down
Yr City's a Sucker
Dance Yrself Clean
All My Friends