Saturday, April 2, 2011

LCD Soundsystem

"New York, I Love You" was, and, it seems, forever shall be, the last song LCD Soundsystem ever play in a live setting. Tonight, after a three-hour farewell show in New York City's Madison Square Garden, James Murphy's band of miscreants hung it up for good. And I don't blame them.

I came to LCD Soundsystem slowly, after reading a number of glowing reviews for 2007's Sound of Silver. I picked it up at a Newberry Comics in Connecticut, and I can still remember listening to "Get Innocuous!" for the first time, driving in my car at night with my best friend from high school sitting next to me. Music that doesn't just ride a groove, but relies on it, was new to me. Despite being the simplest form rock can take (and I mean that not in reference to its execution, but to its form), I took ages to warm to it. But it worked its way in, and "Get Innocuous!", "Time to Get Away," and "North American Scum," the opening salvo of Silver, slowly bore deeper and deeper into my mind.

A year later, I picked up the debut album, LCD Soundsystem, in New York City, while on a day off from my job as a camp counselor. It also took me some time to warm to, and, in fact, I would say I'm still working on it. But there is a reason for this. When LCD Soundsystem started, James Murphy was already clever. His songs could make you move, and his words could make you laugh. But there wasn't any heart. As cliché as that sounds, it's the truth. Much of what he says throughout LCD Soundsystem is genuine, but there isn't a moment of honesty to be found within its 100 minutes. That's what Sound of Silver changed, and that was what made me love this band. "Someone Great" and "All My Friends," the central pillars of Silver, remain two of the most touching, moving, honest, and thrilling songs I know. They are without question two of the songs I hold most dear.

After three years, in 2010, LCD Soundsystem released This Is Happening, with the proviso that it would be the final LCD Soundsystem album. From almost any other band, it would have felt like an expression of frustration in being out of ideas, an excuse to duck out before hitting bottom, or a desperate grab for the "No, no, please don't go"s. But there was something about the way Murphy delivered the news that made me okay with it. The band were getting bigger than he wanted them to be; not that he didn't want LCD to be popular, but James Murphy seems to be one of the rare sorts who are truly about the music, and he expressed repeatedly a desire to be free to do other things. So it was with knowledge of what was to come that LCD released their third and final album, and launched an extensive tour. And it was very, very good.

As I said above, what set LCD apart, starting with Sound of Silver, was Murphy's honesty, his willingness to put it all out there in between the songs meant only to make you sweat. This Is Happening epitomizes what made them so special. Movers like album opener "Dance Yrself Clean" were better than any of the other dance music being put out there; if you saw it live, you know nothing demolishes a concert venue like "Dance Yrself Clean." Meanwhile, "All I Want" and "I Can Change" were two staggering pieces of honesty in a scene that tends to pride itself on being one step removed from the situation.

It is an irony that has not been ignored that LCD Soundsystem became a flagship band for the hipster scene. The first single, "Losing My Edge," was an ironic play on the hipster mentality, an out-of-step hipster from way back talking about all the new kids and how the internet has leveled the playing field. Murphy never seemed to want the status of a Hipster hero, and, while he never turned out a song as blatantly hipster-bashing as Arcade Fire's recent "Rococo," he kept his distance. He just wanted to make great music. He never tried to deny his influences, and he never tried to hide them. Most bands would feel like naughty children if you pointed out the similarity of the guitars on "All I Want" to David Bowie's "'Heroes'". Murphy nodded and said, "Yep, that's where I got that from." And kudos to him. In an age with as much music as there has been, there's no point in pretending your influences don't exist. Embracing them gives you more freedom to do what you want, and to come up with something interesting.

I had the good fortune this summer of seeing LCD Soundsystem three times. The first time was at the Pitchfork festival in Chicago last summer. It was transcendent. The eight minutes of "All My Friends" are frozen in my mind, a series of perfect moments. But it was during the final song of the night, "New York, I Love You," that I saw a flash of what we'd all truly be losing when LCD threw in the towel; three-quarters of the way through the song, the music gave way to an acapella rendition of Alicia Key's "New York". And it was stunning. I discovered in that moment that a band which always seemed to rely on repetition to hammer the point home didn't need it at all. They just liked it better that way.

There was no acapella rendition of "New York" in tonight's finale. LCD Soundsystem are no more. Their Wikipedia entry even says so. And while this is the first time I've had to say goodbye to an extant band which means something to me, at least they never rode it out, and at least they never seemed to take it for granted. James Murphy has left behind something flawless, on his own terms, and now he's free to do whatever he wants. Wouldn't you want it that way if you had a choice?