[6 February 2011]
It’s becoming increasingly rare to find bands that can excel in the studio and also shine onstage. More often than not, the performers who rely too heavily on production alchemy end up with material that is too overly complicated and/or polished to translate well in a live setting. But every now and then exceptions emerge, and LCD Soundsystem is a case in point. Over the past decade, James Murphy and his troupe have not only cut several stellar singles and studio albums, but they have also flawlessly reformulated that output for one kick-ass live show.
And it’s this above-mentioned point that makes Murphy’s plan to retire the dance-punk outfit as a professional rock band a bit of a pop culture calamity. According to Murphy, he’ll continue to write and produce music under the LCD moniker but the band’s customary routine of “album, videos, singles, tour” will allegedly end following the victory-lap promotion of their 2010 album This is Happening.
Thankfully, though, Murphy and company had decided to cap off this trajectory by documenting their live prowess on a release entitled London Sessions. The nine-song career-spanning project, which was cut live in one day, sans an audience, at a London studio, was originally an iTunes-only release but fortunately for intangible music Luddites, it’s now available on CD, and it will be put out again on vinyl later this year.
As far as the actual album goes, every rendition on London Sessions stacks up against their studio doppelgangers—and in several cases the band improves upon the album versions. Standout “All I Want” tops the This is Happening version by adding a poppy “oooh, la, la, la” chorus over the David Bowie-esque guitar work, and the performance of “All My Friends” illustrates why the song has become the “Purple Rain” climax for their stage shows. Elsewhere, the band adds a bit of ragged character to the “White Light/White Heat” pastiche “Drunk Girls”, and they breathe new life into what was becoming a staling “Daft Punk Is Playing at My House”. And throughout the album, but particularly on performances of “Get Innocuous”, “Pow Pow”, and “Yr City Is a Sucker”, LCD’s other key members Nancy Whang and Pat Mahoney demonstrate their indispensability, with the former delivering infectiously snarky backing vocals and the latter offering up hypnotically primal drumming.
Probably the worst things you can say about London Sessions is that it is low on surprises (the project would have benefited from an unexpected cover song or another B-side cut), and it maddeningly omits live favorites “Losing My Edge”, “Tribulations” and the newly coveted “Home”. But these are minor complaints over what is otherwise a magnificent swan song for one of the premiere acts—both in and outside of the studio—of the past ten years.