James Murphy...about to say goodybe to it all.
When I say I love this band I mean I love this BAND. Sure, James Murphy might be the driving creative force, but without this wonderful group of friends that he has assembled to perform his music, we wouldn’t be talking about any of this right now.
Taking the late 70’s/early 80’s New York art/rock/punk scene and throwing it into a blender with the dance/electronic sounds of a more modern New York wasn’t anything new. Acerbic wit with a “fuck you” attitude wasn’t anything new either. In fact, nothing that LCD Soundsystem did was technically new except for one thing:
How goddamn well they did it.
On record, the band’s songs sometimes came off as cold or sterile. That’s because they were. Every album was meticulously crafted in the studio by Murphy and Murphy alone. It serves a purpose to be sure, as those records are some of the best of the last decade. But it’s been clear every time I’ve seen this band, that their music was best heard as loudly as possible and in front of as many people as possible.
On stage, Murphy, along with Nancy Whang (keyboards, vocals), Pat Mahoney (drums), Tyler Pope (bass), David Scott Stone (guitar) and a rotating cast of various other friends and musicians didn’t just execute the music to Murphy’s exacting specifications, they elevated it to something more. Songs became visceral. They became primal information that worked as much on your intellect as they did your ass. There is no real classification for this stuff so I’ll just leave it at this: It’s SPECIAL..
The first time I actually saw LCD Soundsystem they were the closing act at the Virgin Mobile Free Fest. I saw a lot of music that day, and my expectations were pretty high for LCD’s closing set, but looking back I really had no way of preparing for what they did with their time that night. Within 2 songs, LCD Soundsystem reduced every band there, and I do mean EVERY band (looking at you Pavement), to the status of rank amateurs. Two more and they had turned the entire population of Merriwether Post Pavillion, from the front to the back, into one giant dance party. It was revelatory.
The next week I caught the band in Charlottesville, Va. That show would go down in the record as being the best show I have seen by any band…ever. There are probably some sentimental reasons why this particular night worked so well for me, but ultimately it was the strength of the band that made it all work. They didn’t come to play their songs…they came to PLAY their songs. So when the band kicked into “All My Friends” it was, quite frankly, life changing. The thing I most took away from that show was that bands just don’t do this kind of thing anymore. They don’t have this much confidence. They don’t have this much power. They don’t have this much heart.
It should come as no surprise then to hear that the next week in Austin,TX, LCD Soundsystem did it again. In fact they stole the entire festival. Take THAT Muse!
But enough about the past. Or long gone past at least. Let’s talk about Saturday night, and LCD Soundsystems final performance. EVER.
Now that the buzz and the excitement has worn off I can tell you without a moment’s hesitation that it it’s not only the best show I’ve ever seen … it is likely the best show that I’ll ever see.
That’s a strong statement to be sure, but by consciously planning to go out on top, Murphy and company were able to channel every single bit of everything the band ever was into a jaw dropping, 3 hour and 45 minute show in which they ignored all conventional wisdom of what they should play, or what the crowd wanted them to play, and instead went for what THEY wanted to play.
A second set made up almost entirely of “45:33”, a piece that was originally commissioned by Nike to sell shoes?
A first set absolutely top heavy with the “hits” (“Dance Yrself Clean”, “Daft Punk Is Playing In My House”, All My Friends”, “Get Innocuous!”)?
Guest spots by members of The Arcade Fire??!
None of it really even made sense, but in the end none of it mattered. Sure, the realization that it was the last time you were going to hear any of these songs played leant some weight to the proceedings, but in the end what was most important was that the band was playing their hearts out. Just like they did every other time they had played.
Over the course of the night it seemed less like the band were running down a set list then they were channeling some untapped fountain of rock. A fountain that very few artists even know exist..never mind being able to drink their fill from. This power. This purity… this is what LCD Soundsystem was all about. They killed it Saturday night, and if you understand the why and the how then that’s really all that needs to be said about it.
Bands like this come around once in a generation folks. In a world that is filled with people who call themselves musicians and even more who WANT to call themselves musicians…some people just ARE musicians. And there’s no metric you can apply, no formula you can follow. When you hear them you’ll just know. Everyone will know.
In the end, LCD Soundsystem was as much a great band as they were an example of why I truly, and sometimes unhealthily so, love music. I’ll miss them as much as the next guy, but they went out on top, and on their own terms, so I can't feel too bad. The question on everyone’s mind now is “What’s Murphy going to do next?”, but you shouldn’t worry about that. I’m sure it will be great. The important thing is that what was done cannot be undone, and for accomplishing that feat, we all owe James Murphy, AND his band, a giant hug …under the disco ball…as this genius phase of his career comes to an end.
Thanks James…from all your friends.
- all photos courtesy of Mitch Ward (firstname.lastname@example.org)