It would be difficult to say that LCD Soundsystem’s performance on Friday night was the best live set I have ever seen, but I honestly can’t think of one better. Granted, it was my first experience with James Murphy and his band of enthusiastic teammates, so maybe this is just how LCD Soundsystem always is. But when Murphy addressed the 17,000+ fans that sold out the Hollywood Bowl (their last time in town was at the 4,000 capacity Palladium), even he knew this was special: “This is pretty much the coolest thing that any of us have ever done.”
I only caught three songs each of the opening sets by Hot Chip and Sleigh Bells. Hot Chip hardly looked like they were putting on a footnote of a show. Instead they were enthusiastic, sounded great, and were captivating to watch. The weirdest thing about Hot Chip is that the kids who love them view The Warning as the early stuff, but that record still feels new-ish to me. Their confidence has grown exponentialy since then, and it should only increase.
Except on a Saturday or Sunday, maybe, 7 p.m. concert times are cruel to the band who is playing it and to the people who want to see them, as Sleigh Bells discovered when the played to a nearly empty Bowl. They also managed to piss off the photographers by playing in complete darkness, only illuminated at odd intervals with strobes matching beats. These brief moments of flash were so fast that you’d have to shoot ahead of the light intervals to catch anything. And though I don’t understand the coolness of not having decent photos of your band playing the Hollywood Bowl, it fit with their style, a kind of angry techno-punk made by people who probably really enjoy the movie Hackers. It comes across as juvenile and so hopelessly out of style that, in a way, it works. What little I could make out on the stage appeared to be a pair of excited musicians who struck poses and ran all over the place. Everyone I talked to thought they were awesome, so I’ll reserve judgement until I can see their whole set. Their album is pretty fun, I admit, and it is about the least pretentious music you can find .
I can’t say whether LCD Soundsystem were particularly tight or passionate, but the reality is that this was the biggest show of their lives, which is the true joy in seeing shows at the iconic venue. More often than not, the people entertaining you are having the biggest night of their lives too. So I can, though, compare LCD Soundsystem’s performance to other bands that have graced the same stage. In short, LCD obliterated them, rising aboove the occasion, and the fans proved equally responsive in assisting the loudest, most joyful and emotionally stunning performance I have ever seen.
For a little perspective, let me give you the Hollywood Bowl rundown in case you’re unfamiliar. The venue is located near the end of Los Angeles proper, in the hills that separate Hollywood from the San Fernando Valley. Nestled in to give the feeling of wilderness within the city, the venue is an incredible hassle in many aspects. The traffic always blows; The parking is 20-30 bucks (stacked and limited, mind you); You have a hike after you park; The majority of seats are wood benches; The sound is quiet enough that conversations around you are terrible distractions. Murphy could write a song about it if he wanted (“Drunk girls like to talk about nothing, Drunk Girls don’t care who gets in their way”). This is all easily outweighed by the other oddity of the bowl: You’re allowed to bring your own food, drink, and booze. You can bring a case of beer to a concert. People do it. It’s rad.
The Beatles recorded a live album at the Bowl. It’s where the Los Angeles Philharmonic performs. This is where the prestige comes in, why it’s such a big deal to headline the venue. It’s the size, sure, but mainly it’s the fact that having indie bands there at all is quite rare. Belle and Sebastian were the ones to really start the trend of more youth oriented shows when they played a 2006 set with the Orchestra backing. Other headliners have included The Decemberists, Bright Eyes, Arcade Fire (LCD opened), Pavement, Phoenix, and Vampire Weekend. Every one of these shows was terrific mind you, but this one was clearly in another league, from the moment Murphy kicked things off.
The group made it difficult not to get lost in their music. This was aided by the aforementioned fact that LCD was louder than I thought the bowl could possibly be. But the rules typically enforced at the white collar venue seemed to be abandoned by the time I reached my seat, as every stairwell and walkway had become a dancefloor. On most occasions, this is a “picnic with Chardonnay, sit down to watch the quiet band” kind of location. But 17,000 people didnt come to Hollywood to sit down in their assigned seat on Friday. They came to, well, dance themselves clean.
In reality, it was hardly clean. Drugged eyes stared blankly at your face for awkward amounts of time, and it was worrisome to watch the twenty-somethings stuggle on the stairs, feeling things out with their toes before they commited to a complete step. But on stage, it was beyond smooth. Opener Dance Yrself Clean translates live in such a perfect way that it is shocking they just started playing it. As the intro adds instruments, the band added members, with Murphy last to arrive, dressed in an all white suit, seeming tame and relaxed. Relaxed, that is, until the song explodes. Then, he was fucking everywhere.
See James Murphy swinging his shoulders, looking like a slightly more fit Ricky Gervais. See the Murphy praising his band mates after each of the first few numbers. See Murphy laughing in between lines and throwing improvisational moments anywhere that will fit, a la The Hold Steady’s Craig Finn. See Murphy scream from his soul, falsetto up to every high note that stands in his way.
Daft Punk Is Playing At My House and I Can Change proved to be great early set choices. The opening three songs woke up the crowd that had been so active during the expertly performed set by Hot Chip. Drunk Girls almost seemed amusing, in that people were really up in arms about this fun little jam, a single that at this point has become a minor classic. Plus, Murphys clear number two, Nancy Whang, used this song to step up to the bar that Murphy had set so high with his unending energy and infectious charisma. The rest of the band rose to the occasion as well, with each getting moments of spotlight perfiorming, including familiar face Al Doyle, Hot Chip primary figure and touring LCD bassist who handled the always impressive double-duty.
After what I imagine was an audience breather during “I Can Change”, the piano tipped off the uniting anthem, “All My Friends”, which may or may not be the best song ever written, by anyone. Live, it was an unforgettable moment. As the final, climactic verse rang out, I became very aware of 17,000 people around me. Everyone was standing, and the final words turned into a massive sing-along. Is there a more pure thing than a collective of people singing along with a band that didn’t ask them to?
But besides producing fun, dance-friendly, poppy, even funny songs, LCD Soundsystem is also known to make music that means something to people who listen to it. Murphy has always seemed like one of us, and his early gracious and ecstatic banter only enforced this point. His songs could find truth in many contexts, in many hearts. But my favorite thing about his songs are the fact that every one on this setlist has had their specific time in my life.”All My Friends” is a drive from Petaluma to San Francisco and knowing where my friends were for a rare moment; “Daft Punk Is Playing At My House” is an exploration of post-disaster New Orleans that couldn’t keep the harsh reality out of any fun we had; “Someone Great” is CoS writer Winston Robbins, and he knows why.
By the time they hit their closer, “Home”, as part of an encore that cooled the dancing to let the drugs smoothly loosen their grip, I realized that it had remained immediate since my first listen. Being “Afraid of what you need,” not knowing that what you have is better than you could imagine, all the dark thoughts and shady deeds that crowd our nights in the name of good times, and how, when all is said and done, maybe the end does justify the means.
“Tribulations” blindsided me with its climax, which saw the dropping of a disco ball from the dome top of the stage, painting the finishing touches on the largest club this side of the rave scene. But “Losing My Edge” topped it. Either high drama or high comedy, Murphy acted out the hipster parts and gave a little shout under his breath that “this is the best part” right before the song’s first sonic erruption. Who knows how many times he has sung that song, but it still seems completely fresh.
But the unavoidable reality is that this might be the last chance to see LCD Soundsystem, although it is truely hard to see that happening. Regardless of what James Murphy decides about the future of his project, he can go away knowing that he went out on his terms, and as the natural showman that he is. Next up Madison Square Garden?
Photography by Philip Cosores.
Sleigh Bells setlist:
Crown On The Ground
Hot Chip setlist:
Boy From School
One Pure Thought
One Life Stand
Over and Over
Hand Me Down Your Love
We Have Love
I Feel Better
Ready For The Floor
LCD Soundsystem Setlist:
Dance Yourself Clean
Daft Punk Is Playing At My House
I Can Change
All My Friends
You Wanted A Hit
Losing My Edge
Gallery by Philip Cosores