October 10, 2010
This past Wednesday night marked the first of the concerts listed in an earlier posting I had the pleasure to attend: LCD Soundsystem and Sleigh Bells. Future bands appearing during this month in the Miami area have a tough act to follow. This could be one of the greatest straight-up live shows I have ever seen in Miami.
But before I get to the show, what’s crazy is that I almost skipped it altogether. I had heard of LCD Soundsystem and had been a fan of their first single, “Daft Punk is Playing at My House,” back in the day, but that was as far as my knowledge went with the band. I decided to at least check out the new album, This is Happening, by streaming it on my Napster account, to see what I might be missing. I was blown away almost immediately (and I have since picked up the vinyl, as you can see in the accompanying images). The album started mellow enough with mastermind James Murphy muttering the lyrics under the groovy patter of a drumbeat and sporadic cowbells. After the song meanders for about three minutes like this, a low-end, layered synth takes over the beat and Murphy starts yelling his words. The song winds along drenched in rhythmic bliss for nearly 10 minutes.
I was impressed but I would not be totally blown away until the fourth track, having tapped my toes to the next two tracks: “Drunk Girls,” which features a construction very similar to the Velvet Underground’s 1967’s “White Light/White Heat” even though it’s a rocking modern disco song, thanks to a synth hook that sounds almost as if pulled from the repertoire of early industrial groups like the Normal or Cabaret Voltaire. Meanwhile, “One Touch” has an electro groove (also with a kind of early 80s industrial feel) with Murphy taking his voice down an octave to give a serious, new romantic delivery. But “All I Want” was the track that both convinced me to see this band live or regret it for the rest of my life.
It’s been a while since I got chills listening to a song upon first listen– music that chokes me up to near tears in its gorgeous gorgeosity. The last time this happened was in the car listening to Tap Tap’s “100,000 Thoughts” for the first time, about a year and half ago. This truly only happens to me about once every two years or so. Sometimes it will take five years until I hear a song of this quality. Now add “All I Want” to that very short list of songs.
I was so overwhelmed by this track, that I could not help but halt in my writing of its praises as it played. I could not resist just stopping to listen, marveling at the layers of melodies and their luscious interplay. It caught me by total surprise. At first listen, my toe tapping involuntarily increased, then I was frozen by the music. “All I Want” begins with a short, soft groove that reminds me of Neu! But that only lasts a few seconds before a wall of sound envelopes everything with a guitar line that’s almost a note-perfect dupe of Robert Fripp’s work on the title track David Bowie’s 1977 album,“Heroes”, except there is a driving piano and propulsive beat under the thunderous wash of roaring guitars.
After I heard this track, I had to look up this album on Amazon, and of course, in the editorial description, I see “Musically inspired by late 1970′s David Bowie”– my favorite era by my favorite artist. After hearing only half of This is Happening, my love for this group was sealed, and further exploration of their back catalog did not disappoint. There is more than Bowie going on here, there are definite influences of Krautrock and the early new wave stylings of bands like Japan, Heaven 17 and even Pulp. I’d be remiss to not mention the Talking Heads influence on songs like “Pow Pow” and “Home,” which appear toward the end of This is Happening. I had to see this group live.
Although LCD Soundsystem never played “All I Want” during their Miami Beach stop at the Fillmore, the band turned out exceeding my expectations. The group made up for no “All I Want” with a fun, thrilling surprise of luscious musicality. To top it off, I was able to get front and center against the barrier thanks to the Fillmore’s brilliant creation of “Fast Lane” tickets. I barely had to wait in any lines to get to the front of the house doors, thanks to an extra $5.
But before LCD Soundsystem took the stage, the very capable opening act Sleigh Bells warmed up the audience. The duo have currently been riding a wave of positive indie press and even have a song featured in a car commercial. Contrary to what some think, in a couple of reviews I have read, singer Alexis Krauss did not lip synch. Those screeches were real. Granted, she did have a load of backing tracks, which included more vox. Guitarist and mastermind Derek Miller used guitar loops that he sampled with pedals on-stage.
The duo performed several songs from their debut LP Treats. Sometimes Miller would leave the stage and Krauss performed on her own with the sample box. Despite the harsh, noisy, beat-heavy music pouring from the stack of Marshall amps behind them, Krauss came of as personable and friendly. She liked leaning into the crowd to almost get lifted by the audience, but no one was carried away by the music to do anything too rash. The songs were quick and dynamic enough to make the set an enjoyable warm up before the headliners. I was able to make some videos from right up front:
Then, LCD’s entrance was heralded by dimmed lights, smoke machines and “I’m Not in Love” by 10cc playing over the speakers. The real music began with “Dance Yrself Clean,” as members of the seven-person group slowly trickled on stage, to take their musical parts. The song’s gradual build-up made for the perfect opener. I had hoped for this song as an opener since I first heard the album. Someone has put that very performance up on YouTube in its entirety. If you can get over the shaky camera work and singing along, here it is:
The dynamics in that song set the tone for every song after. The group of players would not let up the grooves and luscious melodies. One highlight had to be “All My Friends,” which began with its famous crazy, percussive, jittery piano melody. I was amazed that it was actually played live and did not come out from some sampling device. These players were super adept and recreating the luxuriousness of LCD’s music with keyboards, guitars, bass (that was Hot Chip bassist Al Doyle on stage) and an array of percussion.
The group of musicians were like a technically adept jam band without any of the indulgent noodling. The beat dominated. Three stations of drums on stage, symbolized that well. The group seemed to recall the musicality of live funk or disco music, but up-dated to the 21st century with some amazingly loud, distorted moments that recalled the crazier moments in post rock bands like Mogwai or Godspeed You Black Emperor and Krautrock legends Neu! and Faust. Sometimes things became super distorted and noisy, but droning like the psychedelic insanity of Spacemen 3. Nothing ever fell apart into too much noise, as the band could pull it altogether and keep grooving along. The songs rewarded long attention spans in the interplay of dynamics, and there were many moments were I became lost in the groove and could not contain my feet from jumping and even did some slight moshing, something I had not done since I got lost in a giant mosh pit at the Miami Arena where Nine Inch Nails stopped during their Downward Spiral tour, back in like 1995.
The group certainly lost themselves in their music, as well. There was barely any personal connection with the audience. The only time singer and master songwriting James Murphy addressed the audience was to advise them to get out from behind their cameras and smart phones and just watch the show. If you’re behind a camera lens, you’re not really at the show, he said. Though he also said he had no problems with any YouTube videos of the show. As someone who video records at least a few songs at live shoes, I understand his comments. I’ve actually make less videos at live shows nowadays, and try to avoid recording my favorite songs for fear of missing out. In fact, his little speech came only after I recorded this one and only full-length video from the show, for “Daft Punk is Playing at My House”:
One more thing about Murphy’s stage presence, for a guy that has only released three albums since 2005, he seems to carry a beleaguered quality, and I’m not talking about the pot belly and the gray in his hair, which includes his face and chest. His music really leaps from references to Bowie, 70s disco, Talking Heads and, as I have already said, Krautrock and only probably gets as modern as Nine Inch Nails and Daft Punk.
There’s also a deep-seeded irony in his lyrics that can only came from a mind that knows mature self-deprecation (see songs like “I’m Losing My Edge”). His attitude is akin to super-informed rock legends like, Brian Eno, Lou Reed and Robert Fripp. He also gives an air of not giving a shit about theatrics (the most theatrical the show got besides the flashing wall of light boxes and smoke machines was the giant mirror ball that came at the end of the first set). He dressed in a simple, button up blue shirt and baggy trousers, probably just for comfort.
It’s all about the music for this guy and it shows and pays off in musicality of songs. I eagerly await whatever he comes out with next, as he as made no secret that This is Happening was LCD’s final album, and this was the group’s last tour. I consider myself blessed to have seen this outfit live, and I am shocked I almost allowed myself to miss it. A performance like this, which is all about the music, happens once in a blue moon. Though I look forward to up-coming shows by the Flaming Lips, MGMT, Caribou, Vampire Weekend and Phoenix this month alone, I really doubt I’ll be swept away as powerfully as this band took me.
“Dance Yrself Clean”
“Yr City’s a Sucker”
“Daft Punk is Playing at My House”
“I Can Change”
“All My Friends”
“You Wanted a Hit”
“Losing My Edge”
October 7, 2010
I had hoped to get something written up here by now, but after one single-spaced page exploring how LCD Soundsystem’s new album, This is Happening, won me over before I even finished listening to the entire thing, and barely anything on the live show (so far), I offer this teaser photo. Check back here soon (tomorrow?) for my thoughts on the album and one of the most potent live shows I have seen since I got lost in a giant mosh pit at the Miami Arena, when Nine Inch Nails kicked off their Downward Spiral tour back in 1995. Not to mention more pics and videos!