Although this is a free MySpace-sponsored show, taped for posterity, the menace of the Orwellian cameras swooping overhead is quickly subverted. I just can’t imagine (can I?) Rupert Murdoch sitting Sliver-style in front of a bank of televisions watching James Murphy and his band run through disco-affected, punk-funk tunes. If he did, what would he make of the tribal Krautrock call to arms, “Us v Them,” with its opening line—a statement of intent, perhaps—lifted verbatim from ‘60s soul group the Chambers Brothers’ “Time Has Come Today?” What would he think of a near-capacity crowd barking back at Murphy that we should “read all the pamphlets and watch the tapes” during an especially raucous run through the proletariat propaganda of “Watch the Tapes?” Maybe antipodean Murdoch would actually enjoy the misanthropic “North American Scum?” The crowd certainly does, singing along in self-aggrandizement, self-mockery, or, in some cases, just pure elation.
In the half decade since LCD Soundsystem released its first single (the metasong-to-end-all-metasongs, “Losing my Edge”), Murphy has taken what was essentially a solo recording project producing updated takes on disco, funk, and post-punk, and turned it into a full-fledged band. But, unlike the anchor screen-printed on the white t-shirt he’s wearing tonight, Murphy isn’t weighed down. He flows freely—between influences (Talking Heads, Joy Division, Daft Punk, and David Bowie to name a few), lyrical subjects (middle age malaise, poignant odes, self-referential soliloquies), and, on stage, between the microphone and various percussive accoutrements.
Despite a democratic approach to band dynamics—each member (drums, guitar, keys, bass, and multi-instrumentalist) is placed at the front of the stage—it’s clearly Murphy’s show. A whirling dervish, capable of whipping a crowd into frenzy with a flick of his wrist, Murphy mimes his way through a myriad of acts. He shakes his fist like he’s rolling dice, wears an invisible sock puppet, and, at his most animated, dances with the temper-tantrum ferocity of a child whose favorite toy has just been taken away. His vocals are similarly varied—from deadpan takes on Ian Curtis and Mark E. Smith’s mouth–full-of-marbles mumbling to David Byrne yelps and, on “All My Friends,” even actual singing. There’s even a point during “Tribulations” when he sounds strikingly like Billy Idol.
It’s this chameleon-like nature that keeps LCD Soundsystem interesting. From the punk thrash of “Movement” to the piano-led poignancy of “All My Friends,” Murphy makes music that’s at once danceable and durable. Tonight, LCD Soundsystem roll and rumble through a set of songs that highlight that range. Though each song is helmed by a similarly hypnotic metronomic groove, the toppings take different forms—from the shrieking electro pop of “Time to Get Away” to the minimalist throbbing of “Yeah.”
While it is hard to avoid the cameras (the house lights are only slightly dimmed), the band does its best to ignore the intrusion. What’s striking about LCD Soundsystem live, as an actual band rather than a studio project, is how hard they rock. It’s not in a Guns N Roses sense, but in a pounding, propulsive way. Like several songs, “Daft Punk Is Playing at my House” is sped up, so much so that it sounds like the Hold Steady are the ones covering it. It takes six songs, though, for anything to sound remotely disco. That doesn’t mean people aren’t dancing. They are. But it’s not until “Tribulations” kicks in with its simple-sounding synth line that you can close your eyes and picture a club rather than a rock venue—a delicate precipice that Murphy presides over like no other.
As the set moves on, the tempo and volume increase, culminating in a wild, percussive run through early single “Yeah.” Of all the songs they play, “Yeah,” despite being lyrically simplistic (it was written as a riposte to the wordy “Losing my Edge”), is the most Pavlovian in nature—with the crowd baying for more with each sudden speed bump in its momentous build. Murphy, making the most of the minimalist structure, flexes his vocal muscles in what becomes an endurance test for both our feet and his larynx.
Yet, for all the hyperbole, this isn’t the greatest show. Only when Murphy divulges that being filmed in HDTV is not a good time to be really, really ill do we realize that he’s been lagging a little. And the event’s staginess—prior to the show an announcer asked that everyone from the bars and balcony come down to the main floor—sours it somewhat.
Finishing with Murphy’s paean to New York City—which also closes their latest album Sound of Silver—doesn’t help either. Not only are the opening lines drowned out by shouts of “Philly,” but subsequent mentions of the five boroughs are roundly booed. And musically speaking, after the masterful rise and fall of “Yeah,” which brought the main set to a close with a feeling of cacophonous camaraderie, the stumbling waltz of “New York, I Love You but You’re Bringing Me Down” feels stilted and second guessed—the musical equivalent of a blown save in baseball.
Maybe Murdoch made them do it?