Written by Dominic Cooper
Last weekend’s biggest and most anticipated gig, certainly for those of an electro-indie persuasion (maybe with a slight hipster tendency), was LCD Soundsystem at the Alexandra Palace in London. There was a feverish level of anticipation and excitement building beforehand, stoked PARTLY by the fact that this was a tour that was perhaps never expected to happen.
The band had announced their retirement in 2011 and departed the scene with an epic 4 hour final show at New York’s Madison Square Garden, which formed the centrepiece of the feature-length documentary “Shut Up and Play the Hits”. Despite having been an avid fan for years now I had only started taking a serious interest around this time, so had understandably resigned myself to never seeing them play live. That changed with the reformation of the group, with new members/collaborators, and the release of their 4th album “American Dream”.
James Murphy, singer and principal creative force of LCD Soundsystem, may be the only artist to announce his arrival with a song about how he was already too old, out of touch and musically irrelevant, “Losing My Edge”, which demonstrated he was anything but that! On that track he described himself as being “the first person to play Daft Punk to the rock kids” at CBGBs. Whether this set off a sequence of events enabling EDM’s conquering of the USA and culminating in Calvin Harris’s Vegas residence is possible but not something Murphy has officially taken credit for! He developed that combination of dance & electronic music with the artier end of classic rock into the solid self-titled debut album, then perfected it on “Sound of Silver” (2007) and “This is Happening” (2010). The latest album picks up where the last left off, not particularly changing the style and, despite perhaps a slight drop-off in the number of consistently classic tracks compared to the previous 2 (which were amongst the most critically successful albums of the 21st century, to be fair), still maintaining an excellent level of infectious, sophisticated bangers.
The support act, Joe Goddard of Hot Chip and the 2 Bears, put in an enjoyable shift switching between DJing and singing, with the highlight being the gorgeous single “Gabriel”, followed by the vocalist’s little girl joining her on stage to jump around joyfully to “Music is the Answer”. The other support act, Shit Robot, appeared not to turn up but in all honesty I can’t be sure of that, as I spent their whole slot fighting my way to the bar in preparation for the main event. Before I go on, due respect must be paid to the venue. I have never been to Alexandra Palace before, and the grand old iconic hall very much added to the sense of occasion. It is a huge space, with very high ceilings and beautiful windows and columns, as well as a lighting rig, layout and facilities to fully do justice to the show.
LCD Soundsystem themselves kicked things off with “Get Innocuous”, the opener from “Sound of Silver” and then kept the tunes going almost continuously, segueing from one track to the other with re-edited intros and outros, akin to a DJ set, and only very brief pauses to interact with the crowd and introduce the members. Several of the songs had been subtly re-interpreted, including a slower and slightly distorted “I Used To” and conversely a punchier and tougher “Someone Great” and full-throttle “Tribulations”, but these all worked well I felt. The size of the space and the crowd made it hard to see the band themselves, but this was remedied by large screens on either side of the stage, which were used as an opportunity to produce some fantastic visual effects, constantly switching from different perspectives and applying different lights and filters. That this could be done so seamlessly live, giving the sense of a music video being made on the spot, was highly impressive. The lights behind and above the stage, as well as an enormous disco-ball were also expertly deployed to enhance the experience.
There was a good blend of tracks from across all 4 albums, rather than the current album dominating, but my only criticism of the show was the surprising absence of both what I think is the best track on “American Dream”, namely the hypnotic “Oh Baby”, and the 2 tunes that are arguably the closest they have come to crossover chart success, “Daft Punk is Playing at My House” and “North American Scum”. Instead they included “Movement” and “Yr City’s a Sucker”, amongst the least interesting parts of the 3rd and 1st albums respectively. Mind you, James Murphy’s refusal to compromise and make crowd-pleasing concessions is epitomised in the chorus of “You Wanted a Hit” insisting “well, maybe we don’t do hits, I’ve tried and tried and end up sounding kind of wrong”, so perhaps that was unsurprising. LCD Soundsystem are one of those bands that have long been huge with those ‘in the know’, and acclaimed by taste-makers and musos, without ever breaking through into mainstream popularity. Nevertheless, two decades of word of mouth growth have now led to “American Dream” achieving no 1 status in the US.
Murphy announced at one point that there would be 4 more songs and then he was going for a pee. This section was rounded off with “New York I Love You” building to a thundering, guitar-thrashing climax. I had expected this to be an official intermission with a good long 2nd half session afterwards, but there were in fact only 4 more songs, so I think he may really have just been bursting!
I later saw one person on Twitter describe the last 2 songs, “Dance Yourself Clean” and “All My Friends” to be possibly the best 15 minutes of live music he has seen for years, and it is hard to disagree. The first of these chugged along for 2 minutes, building anticipation with a niggling, whistly beat before exploding into life with a force that nearly blew the roof off and then kept up this multi-layered ecstatic party straight into the finale. “All My Friends” is considered by many to be the best song LCD Soundsystem have ever made, and the delirious smiles, hands in the air and mass sing-along chimed with the lyrics in a sense of unity and friendship, making it a fitting end to an incredible night.