[7 April 2011]
New York City was crawling with acolytes long before the show, dressed as instructed in black, white or some combination of the two. LCD Soundsystem did more than sell out a run of shows at Terminal 5 and an arena sendoff at Madison Square Garden this week. If you were in the right place, and the East Village fit that description on Saturday evening, it was as though James Murphy & Co. had taken over the city itself.
Forget the fury over ticket scalping, the oft-reported likelihood of a regular guy and all-around good dude being so iconic or the fact that bigger isn’t necessarily better. None of that mattered on Saturday night.
Fans arrived from across the country and around the world, doing everything within their power to be there for the finale of one of modern music’s most enthralling live acts. It’s possible some of them even plotted their route to the Garden by way of the L, C and D trains - logistically possible, though sort of convoluted and redundant, and with a short walk at the end. It would have made perfect sense, of course.
This was a night, not for excess exactly, but for an appropriate amount of jubilation. And, as it happens, no amount of jubilation would have been too much. People latched on to one another like family, not just during “All My Friends”, but beforehand on street corners and subway platforms. They were rewarded by a party where it’s like you’ve been hugged by 15,000 pairs of arms, and by some miracle no one smells bad, and even if they do you don’t really mind.
So few bands say goodbye on their own terms, or on terms acceptable to its legions of fans. The rock & roll story is littered with acrimony and greed and no end of shit that leaves a taste in the mouth even worse than anything the concession stands at Madison Square Garden could conjure up. Because of the way they operate, LCD Soundsystem threw a party. It turned into an exceedingly long party, with the four smaller shows serving as a lead in to the massive one.
Liquid Liquid, rhythm-based post-punk band and early influence on Murphy, was the night’s opening act, a traditionally unenviable role in the cavernous hall. But that night it worked, in part because 1/3 of the floor was general admission and people were showing up earlier than they might ordinarily. Back in October, N*E*R*D had a much tougher time of it opening for Gorillaz in the same venue. Liquid Liquid proved their mettle and with “Cavern”, a song covered by the Sugar Hill house band on the classic Grandmaster Melle Mel track “White Lines (Don’t Do It)”, had ushers shaking their asses.
But the night truly belonged to LCD Soundsystem, a band for whom live shows have always been something of a celebration. Opening the gig with a tremendous “Dance Yrself Clean,” Murphy chirped and crooned like a digital David Byrne, his iconic laconicism punctuated by a black suit, untucked tuxedo shirt, white sneakers and 5 o’clock shadow. This is how we’ll always remember him, exactly as he is.
Though ostensibly Murphy’s vision, LCD Soundsystem would not be possible without a close-knit group of collaborators. Multi-instrumentalist and singer Nancy Whang and drummer Pat Mahoney picked up the lion’s share of the audience appreciation, though Murphy seemed equally indebted to everyone on the stage, including a chorus and brass section in silver jumpsuits and roughly half of Arcade Fire, who looked like the von Trapp children on growth hormones as they sang along to a bristling “North American Scum”.
To pinpoint a single highlight would be a disservice to a night where every second stood out as crucial. Was it the trembling future funk of “Get Innocuous!” or the Devo soul of “I Can Change,” the self-conscious “Losing My Edge” or the final bow, when hundreds of white balloons dropped from the ceiling to “New York, I Love You but You’re Bringing Me Down”? It was each of those and more.
There were still apparent hiccups, though to no one sensible and no one truly caught up in the moment. “No ‘Pow Pow’” remarked one lost soul in the tangle of the Garden’s exit pattern, in spite of a set that lasted nearly four hours, touched the four corners of the LCD Soundsystem experience and left thousands of true believers with the confusion of having faces streaked by tears and sore from grinning. A shock to the system so great has the power to befuddle, leaving one thinking they were shortchanged on a night where the inclusive give-and-take was as generous as anything ever seen in those hallowed halls.
As something of a postscript to illustrate what a magical night it was, I had a few friends find themselves in the midst of the official after-party at the Tribeca Grand Hotel. One member of the industrious crew, Aaron Gonsher, said the good vibes were still in full effect by then.
“James was walking around with a big bottle of champagne”, said Gonsher. “I gave him a huge hug and just said, ‘Thanks for everything’”.
It was a night where time stood still, where the sheer weight and significance of what was happening was further illustrated by the genuine humility and appreciation being hurtled through the great hall from every direction. And thanks to a live video stream of the show by Pitchfork, it was a moment shared across the world, Twitter and Facebook feeds fat with commentary.
If LCD Soundsystem resists the urge to reunite for some future Coachella or Lollapalooza, they will have said goodbye exactly as they should, as their music and attitude demanded, with a party for the ages. The life-affirming power of music and collective experience was in full effect at Madison Square Garden, and no amount of joyful hyperbole could come close to explaining how much it all meant.
Thanks for everything.