LCD Soundsystem, Remembered
In 2003, during the salad days of New York City's electro-infused post-punk revival, I interviewed LCD Soundsystem frontman James Murphy. His DFA record label was gearing up for their biggest release to date: the Rapture's Echoes, produced by Murphy and then-label partner Tim Goldsworthy. The NYC band had gotten a massive profile goose from the success of their hit single "House of Jealous Lovers," a deliriously danceable No Wave rave-up that thrilled both cooler-than-thou locals and the august critics of the New York Times and Rolling Stone. Shortly thereafter, Pitchfork went so far as to declare Echoes the best record of the year, adding this prophecy: "When this era enjoys its renaissance in fifteen years, we will remember this album: Nothing says 2003 more."
Murphy's response to all the fuss was a polite but resolute Bronx cheer, coupled with some well-earned hubris. "Yeah, people are chattering about us being cool, or us being the next new thing, but I think that's just a temporary response to our stuff being good," he told me in 2003. "I mean, hell, the Beatles were cool—they were the coolest band in the world. But over time, they became good."
So maybe by 2018, the Rapture will eclipse the Beatles in popularity and longevity, but it seems unlikely without Murphy at the controls: The band burned bridges with DFA post-Echoes, and the disco-meets-punk sound they epitomized devolved into the stuff of hipster-band cliché. And meanwhile, Murphy's own band, LCD Soundsystem, used echoes of that same sound to become one of the biggest "indie" bands on the planet, with three Grammy nominations, a trio of critic-beloved full-lengths, and now, a much-publicized final act. Their April 2 date at Madison Square Garden, billed as their Last Show Ever, famously sold out in less time than it takes to download "Drunk Girls" off iTunes, triggering a fiasco of Internet-scalper conspiracy theories of the outlandish Paul-Is-Dead variety, and ending with the band adding four run-up shows at Terminal 5, all now sold out themselves.
Like Deadheads flocking to Haight Street, fans are traveling from all over the world for the MSG show. A few are even raising money to make a documentary about their voyage to NYC, all bearing tattoos that read "All My Friends," the title of one of the band's best-loved songs, which celebrates precisely the sort of emotion that would overtake you as you watched your favorite group play their last-ever show with all your buddies surrounding you in the crowd. This is apparently the end of LCD Soundsystem, and yet, it would seem that LCD Soundsystem is with us for the foreseeable future.
We've had a long time to prepare for the band's departure. Their Last Album Ever (2010's This Is Happening) resulted in their Last Televised Appearance Ever (on The Colbert Report), which was followed by their Last Tour Leg Ever (multiple dates in South America); with this extended string of climactic NYC shows, the nostalgia feedback loop cinches ever tighter, and the band has yet to actually stop doing anything. With Murphy's prodigious production skills and his frequent forays into DJ and nightlife culture, we might get sick of him before we have a chance to truly miss him.
But nostalgia is a powerful thing, and Murphy has employed it to great effect. Despite his frequent antihero posturing—as demonstrated on LCD's first-ever single, "Losing My Edge," in which an aging hipster mourns the loss of his hipsterhood—his band is anything but a downer. There's a sense of hopefulness in almost every LCD song, because hope does not allow for much irony to take root, and irony is Murphy's bête noire. "Irony is cheap and disgusting and cowardly—it means you aren't committing to the stuff you believe in," he told me back in 2003. "Sometimes we do stuff to be funny, but that's different than irony. Hiding behind a lack of seriousness just to defend your lack of talent or quality is reprehensible."
A casual observer might have noted the irony of fans waiting many hours for pre-sale LCD tickets offered at Mercury Lounge in a line that snaked past multiple multi-million-dollar condos on Ludlow Street—condos that replaced the artists who made the Lower East Side a desirable locale in the first place. But not even a band as outwardly anti-commercial as LCD Soundsystem can break the cycle of gentrification. And New York is still New York, even if she only serves as stagecraft in Murphy's self-reflexive dramaturgy.
And this, perhaps, is why this band means so much to me. I, too, was here in the '80s, though too young to see artists like James Chance and Liquid Liquid and the Talking Heads and other No Wave mainstays from whom Murphy has borrowed liberally and to whom he's often paid tribute. I remember that the real New York City—looming outside the walls of CBGB, where bands wailed away on their axes and saxes—was in many ways an unpleasant and sometimes scary place to live. But the artists were all here, and rent was cheap, and, fuck, it's New York City. It's about pride of place. And it's this deeply emotional connection to the things that really matter in life, coupled with hip-shaking motorik beats, Detroit techno's slow-build-and-release dynamics, and gorgeous melodies with pop hooks that don't seem like pop hooks because they take so long to unfurl . . . this is what makes LCD Soundsystem a truly great band.
Back in 2002, when this all was still a Murphy solo project (though fleshed out, then as now, with a backing band), he played an early show at the Bowery Ballroom. He was but a grace note to the Rapture, the evening's main draw. And yes, I was there, hanging back by the bar, a witness to a handful of discordant songs emanating from a stage full of wire-tangled gear. It wasn't bad, but it wasn't particularly memorable, either. But a little over four years later, they were back on that same stage, this time as headliners. They had recently released their epic sophomore full-length, Sound of Silver, and they played one of the most powerful sets I've ever seen on any stage. When Murphy sang "Someone Great," which is, loosely, a song about loss, I flashed back to all the things and people I missed so much in my great city, and I cried. There were ghosts in the crowd that night, but all of my friends were there, too, and in the end, that made everything all right.
LCD Soundsystem play Madison Square Garden April 2 and Terminal 5 March 28 through 31
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