LCD Soundsystem Has Not Lost Its Edge
James Murphy’s LCD Soundsystem celebrates its twentieth anniversary in concert.
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James Murphy isn’t a typical rock star. He has no interest in building a larger-than-life persona, nor does he carry inflated false relatability. He is a genuine everyman, an amalgam of countless classic predecessors: dorky Elvis Costello; manic, jilted David Byrne; progressive, bombastic Bowie; and synthetic, blocky Kraftwerk. On his first track as the founding frontman of LCD Soundsystem, “Losing My Edge” (2002), he recites an encyclopedia of influential underground legends from throughout music history, satirizing the music-nerd community while expressing a genuine fear of falling behind the times and “losing [his] edge to the art-school Brooklynites in little jackets and borrowed nostalgia for the unremembered eighties.”
He sang that line on stage, waving coyly at the packed warehouse audience of LCD Soundsystem’s sixth show of their 20-night Brooklyn Steel residency. It was their 20th anniversary as a band. The stage setup consisted of Murphy, seven bandmates (one in a vintage Jesus Lizard shirt, one dressed in a blond wig, unmoving expression and blazer over neon, the rest in typical daily attire), two electric guitars, a bass, two drum kits, eight synthesizers stacked atop each other like robot bunk beds, thick cables snaking between feet, and four cowbells. Above their heads hung a disco ball ten feet wide, harkening back to the cover of their debut album and reflecting the directional light show onto the crowd, which mostly consisted of ludicrously inebriated hipsters in their mid-30s donning beanies over their burgeoning bald spots.
The show began with some deep cuts from the beginning of Sound of Silver (2007), the band’s most critically acclaimed album. Murphy’s troupe was mostly stationary, casting their eyes towards their instruments. Though the crowd and band alike were still revving up their energy, the music was fantastic. The drummers locked in while Murphy played a lovely little cowbell solo, and the jittery synths and guitars culminated in a thick, danceable crescendo that had the whole crowd jumping.
After Murphy had loosened up, the show came to a point at “I Can Change.” It was the first hit of the night, with the introductory sprinkle of quirky, colorful ‘80s synth leads that raised the spirits of the room instantly. Lyrically, the track reflects on inauthenticity in relationships, and despite the frontman’s carefree footwork across the stage, the crowd’s relationship with him felt strained, as if he were confessing to fraudulence in front of us. “I can change if it helps you fall in love,” he sang, as the crowd swooned. In his two decades since founding the band, Murphy has aged into his grizzled beard. His music has grown more mature, compositionally and thematically, alongside his body. Yet there was a boyishness to his slumping shoulders, the way his arms hung at his side while he sang, and the innocent candor of his speaking voice, which, between every few songs, reminded the audience of his gratitude. He looked small under the giant disco ball—the image that defines him.
The lighting was an incredible supplement to the band’s performance. Individual instruments synchronized with the LED backlighting so that each blast of bass or vast brass hit felt as if it showered the venue in refracted disco-ball glitter. Other hits like “Daft Punk Is Playing at My House” and “Home” pumped the crowd up further, but just as quickly as the first half of the show had come, it was gone, leaving buzzing cochleas in its wake.
The greatness continued post-intermission.The glockenspiel on “Someone Great” was especially memorable, and “North American Scum” was an especially satisfying snipe at snooty Europeans in its live rendition. But as the clock ticked toward 11:00 p.m., there were a few key tracks yet to be performed. “New York I Love You, But You’re Bringing Me Down” was a heartwarming tribute to the band’s hometown, as the backlights shapeshifted into the Manhattan skyline. Murphy had some fun banter with his guitarist, lightening the mood and amplifying the emotional final push of the track into a Pixar-esque stew of love for the city, 20 years of camaraderie, and twinkly storybook pianos. “Dance Yrself Clean,” the band’s biggest hit, cleared the crowd’s misty eyes. The rising “aah” refrain sounded fantastic with a chorus of hipsters singing along, each eagerly anticipating the iconic drop. Each compositional layer built the suspense, and the rubbery synth bass release sent the gaggle into a groovy frenzy. “All My Friends” closed off the show, a beautifully fitting way to unify the room, which was simultaneously swaying and dancing to one of the best songs to ever come from New York City.
While the closing triad was excellent, the true highlight was “Losing My Edge” from the first half. The minimal beat built slowly before imploding into crashing fills and pounding bass roil. With each frenetic breakdown, Murphy grew more and more convincingly angry, both afraid of and grateful to the Brooklynites in little jackets he faced. Though it was the first song he wrote, “Losing My Edge” was prophetic of his career. It stripped James Murphy down to his brilliant essence—a man drowning in influences with no expectations of stardom who somehow became his unique self under the disco ball spotlight.