LCD Soundsystem. Red Rocks. 08.02.16 / 08.03.16
When Chuck Klosterman interviewed James Murphy prior to LCD Soundsystem’s farewell performance, he presented the idea that while bands (and people) are mostly remembered for their collection of successes, they are defined by their singular failure. When Murphy was posed with the question of his own defining failure, the film cuts to footage of the 41-year-old in a cab post-show, alone in deep despondency, before it flashes back to Madison Square Garden, where he is performing a rousing cover of Harry Nilsson’s “Jump in the Fire”. The answer to Klosterman’s question is left hanging in the air. The interviewer doesn’t let his subject off the hook though, he pushes a little harder instead. Murphy is hesitant, but finally admits his biggest failure just might be “stopping.” Anyone who watched the Shut Up and Play the Hits documentary should have been able to predict the return of LCD Soundsystem at that exact moment. Disbanding the group was obviously something James Murphy thought he needed to do, but everything about that interview, and his post-LCD demeanor, told a different story.
The LCD Soundsystem revival was not music to everyone’s ears. Some of those who were there, when the band called it quits in New York in 2011, felt deceived. Many had attended that funeral at great expense. Just like all the milestones Murphy brags about in “Losing My Edge”, the 18,000+ people (as well as those who attended the smaller shows leading up to the main event) felt they had been cheated their place in history. I wasn’t there, so it is not my place to weigh in on the merits of their arguments, but I can speak from experience when it comes to bands I’ve seen before (and after) retirement. My position is if you were really a fan of the band in the first place (and the band is still capable of performing and making relevant, enjoyable music), then you are being pretty selfish and shortsighted by complaining about their return. And if anyone were to question Murphy’s motives behind getting the band back together, his letter of clarification should have legitimized that decision beyond a reasonable doubt.
Anyway, that’s all in the past now. Those who decide to hold a grudge are free to do so at their own peril, while the rest of us reflect back on two incredible nights at Red Rocks.
Dressed all in white, with an oxygen tank in tow, Mr. Murphy joined his band to the roar of the crowd each night. Lights extended over the heads of security and swept across thousands of outstretched arms attached to fists pumping to the beat of “Us v Them”. The stage upon a stage had been built section by section, while a multitude of music-making devices were unwrapped, before Nancy and Pat and the rest of the 7-piece Soundsystem warmed things up for the man himself.
Small droplets of rain welcomed the band back to Red Rocks on Tuesday night, but the sky was clear over the soaking wet crowd when they took the stage on Wednesday. Murphy and his crew had weathered an intense rain and lightning storm backstage that second night, but wasted no time hoisting the planet-sized disco ball into the air to encourage the not-so-lucky audience to dance themselves dry. “Thanks for coming, I’m sorry it rained on you.”
Not to be outmatched by an artificial spectacle, the lightning decided to stick around to augment the party both nights. Bright flashes and bold fingers cracked through the black sky as Murphy reminisced about the time Daft Punk was playing at his house. The disco ball was the sole stage prop and there were no LED screens to hide the natural backdrop either; just some cheesy 80’s transitions playing out on the permanent side screen, with the occasional birds-eye view of the extremely talented circus of musicians. Even the disco ball disappeared as the mood transitioned seamlessly into a full-blast electro-punk show. The greatest dance party Red Rocks had to offer this year didn’t consist of a single DJ or an extravagant light show; it was all about the music. Real life music. The pacing was perfect as well. The downbeat, personal “I Can Change” was followed by the percussion-heavy, post-dance “Get Innocuous!”, before shit was lit for “You Wanted A Hit”. There was never a somber moment, but light shelling would follow every barrage, thus allowing an ebb and flow with a palatable texture.
Having seen LCD Soundsystem perform in the past, I knew what to expect from the show, but I also knew there would be no way to accurately describe the experience. I streamed the Coachella set into my living room and I was almost bored. I felt the same way when watching the live footage in the Shut Up and Play the Hits documentary. But there is something visceral about being at the show. It awakens some primal urge to dance and destroy shit at the same time; like physically being in the crowd at a Fugazi concert, but listening to Homework on headphones at the same time. The music, and Murphy’s physical reaction to channeling it, should tear the listener apart, yet it releases a state of euphoria instead. I know the Talking Heads were a big influence on the band, and I don’t believe Murphy is quite the frontman David Byrne was, but watching LCD perform over the past two nights, I do believe they will mean as much to our generation at the Heads meant to theirs.
The set was almost exactly the same each night. “Tribulation”, “Movement”, and “Yeah” rounded out a mini-suite of LCD Soundsystem material, before “Someone Great” cooled things down a bit. A portion of “45:33” saw the return of Savages’ singer, Jehnny Beth, as well as a horn section. “Losing My Edge” was the cacophonous accusation you’d expect it to be, in all its dad-punk glory. “Home” was introduced with “The air is thin, but I’m not. People are stoned, but I’m not. My friends are tired, but I’m not,” the first time, but when a girl in a green wig rushed the stage before that track on the second night, Nancy chased her away, but not before the girl was able to something behind, “she left a hat, I have to give this back, I can’t steal it.”
Both performances ended with “New York, I Love You But You’re Bringing Me Down”, and while that song will never be as powerful in Colorado as it would be in Madison Square Garden (for the last time?), it rang pretty fucking true between the monoliths each night…. even if those last verses caused Murphy to hit the oxygen tank pretty hard.
“Thank you guys very very much, there is nothing we can say about this place that doesn’t sound corny, but fuck it, we wish you could see what we see.”
The encore was where two decisions made the difference between the two performances. The encore was where Tuesday night earned its place as the better of the two shows. “Yr City’s a Sucker” led into “Dance Yrself Clean”, which led into a 20-minute, double-encore rendition of “All My Friends”. With the audience lit up from head to toe, Murphy’s friends in New York should have been able to hear the song loud and clear. “Where are your friends tonight?!!!”
That epic close was the reason I went back on Wednesday night. Unfortunately, it just wasn’t quite the same. As nice as it was to hear “Time To Get Away”, that track just didn’t have the same punch “Yr City’s a Sucker” did the first time around. And although the normal-length version of “All My Friends” was still one incredible song to participate in, it just didn’t have the staying power displayed the night before. That being said, both shows were amazing and worth the price of admission (especially since I paid half price for the second night, due to overzealous scalpers and AXS releasing tickets the day of).
The real advantage of attending both shows ended up being a cumulative full set from Savages. The British post-punk band demolished their early slot each night, while rewarding repeat customers with a varied setlist. I’m hoping they come back to perform a smaller (preferably darker) venue soon.
In that interview in 2011, Klosterman surmises Murphy’s biggest failure may be his inability to stop being self-conscience. Murphy doesn’t debunk that theory, but instead goes on to question his own decision to ‘quit’ just because he doesn’t want to be a ‘rock star’ who can’t live a normal life and ride the subway without being recognized. He wonders out loud if he is doing the right thing for the band. The next scene shows him alone again, in a warehouse where all the LCD equipment is waiting to be sold; he is crying. The man I saw onstage the past two nights wasn’t crying. He didn’t seem self-conscience at all either. He was a man comfortable in his own skin and with his decision to continue on as LCD Soundsystem. While he was repeating (screaming) the words “If I could see all my friends tonight!” it was obvious that he was already surrounded by them. He might have been a couple thousand miles from New York, but he was right at home on that stage. He was right where he was supposed to be. The choice to disband the group in 2011 might go down as his biggest failure, but at least he was smart enough to rectify that decision before it could define him…and LCD Soundsystem.
Us v Them
Daft Punk Is Playing at My House
I Can Change
You Wanted a Hit
Losing My Edge
New York, I Love You But You’re Bringing Me Down
Yr City’s a Sucker (Night 1) / Time to Get Away (Night 2)
Dance Yrself Clean
All My Friends
All My Friends cont. (Night 1)
Savages (Night 1):
I Need Something New
Slowing Down the World
When in Love
Dream Baby Dream
Savages (Night 2):
I Am Here
I Need Something New
Dream Baby Dream