Famous NYC Band Plays Final Show
April 25, 2011
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Icons are generally determined in retrospect. Decades pass, and all of a sudden a select few emerge that seem to capture the zeitgeist of an era. James Murphy, frontman and genius behind LCD Soundsystem, doesn’t need to be put through the cultural form of Purgatory. It was apparent from the beginning, nearly a decade ago, that he would become a legend.
Reminiscent of past giants but never trite, LCD Soundsystem carved out a distinctly modern sound. But it’s more than that. They managed to encapsulate a generation that has eluded definitive characterization. Murphy embodied the paradoxical nature of a self-assured generation that is perpetually bewildered, but never wrong.
So I suppose that it is fitting that the ultra-hip LCD Soundsystem went out in the most modern way possible- streaming their nearly 4-hour-long farewell concert at Madison Square Garden online at Pitchfork.
At precisely 9:00 P.M. E.S.T, Murphy emerged in his usual fashion- clad in a full on tux, sans the tie, with his wrinkled shirt left casually untucked and his hair perfectly disheveled. He began the show smoothly with “Dance Yrself Clean,” which begins somewhat like Talking Heads’s “Psycho Killer” in Stop Making Sense, but later explodes into a classic LCD Soundsystem dance melody.
The first set was laden with hits. Ranging from “Drunk Girls” to “Daft Punk is Playing at My House” to the ever-brilliant “All My Friends,” the set was energy packed and nearly flawless. I’ve physically been to concerts that didn’t feel half as alive as the 6 by 12 inch box on my computer screen that was broadcast through my woefully inadequate stereo system.
Murphy is widely considered to be among the best producers and songwriters, but he doesn’t get nearly enough credit for his live performances. While not the best singer, Murphy’s voice oozes raw emotion. He growls, yelps, and occasionally slips into a tortured falsetto.
Murphy is physically mesmerizing. He doesn’t dance per say. He doesn’t really even move. He just stands center stage clutching the microphone tightly and holding it so close to his face that it wouldn’t seem at all unusual for him to take a page from Augustus Gloop and take a bite. He shrinks up his face into the most pained expression and proceeds to release these herky-jerky gestures that somehow match the emotion of the song.
Without Murphy front and center, the band falters. The second set of the concert saw him take second billing to the rest of the band as they embarked on the nearly exclusively instrumental track “45:33,” which is aptly named after its gargantuan length. Playing B-sides that even a well-versed fan had to look up (Freakout/Starry Eyes), the set came off as a tad esoteric for a farewell send-off.
Murphy himself remarked on the matter. “We are playing a lot of stuff we haven’t played for a very long time. There might be songs you don’t know.”
LCD Soundsystem recovered in the third set, returning to classics and underrated gems. “Bye Bye Bayou” and “Yeah (Crass Version)” were nice surprises, but “Losing My Edge,” Murphy’s first hit, and “Someone Great,” perhaps their biggest hit, were spectacular.
However, the real highlight came when LCD Soundsystem was joined by a surprise guest for “North American Scum.”
“We had a tour a couple years ago with our friends, a band technically from Canada with two Americans,“ begins Murphy before he trails off unintelligibly, laughing.
And just then, from a distant microphone you could hear Win Butler’s unique gravelly voice scream “Shut up and play the hits!” as the camera panned out to reveal Win Butler, his brother Will Butler, and Regine Chassagne of Arcade Fire.
The high-energy rendition with Arcade Fire on back-up vocals was so good that Murphy himself claimed that they were “f*cking idiots” for not playing “North American Scum” live more often.
LCD Soundsystem ended the night with a crowd favorite, the piano-driven ballad “New York, I Love You, But You’re Bringing Me Down.” A love song that discusses the inevitability and tragedy of change, “New York, I Love You, But You’re Bringing Me Down,” was the most fitting, if not the only song to end a brilliant career. By the time the song reached its climax and balloons dropped from the ceiling, you could truly feel the end of an era approaching.
LCD Soundsystem’s much-discussed split was both expected and unexpected. While Murphy proclaimed for years that he wouldn’t be performing into his forties, there was still a pang of disbelief when he actually decided to call it quits after his fortieth birthday. Some suspect that it’s all just for show, and he will launch a string of Cher-esque “We promise that this is the very last Farewell Concert of 2011” tours.
While obviously I can’t predict the future, I hope that Murphy is for real. There’s a certain beauty to a band going out on the top of their game with no sophomore slumps or sad comeback albums that only serve as reminders of how the greats have fallen.
And Murphy is kind of right. He is getting older. It has to be hard to represent the youth population as you have for a decade when you are getting up there yourself. Even the ultra-cool indie version of Peter Pan has to grow up at some point.