I Was There When LCD Soundsystem Reunited
When LCD Soundsystem announced they were reuniting, it looked as if the whole thing would start with Coachella, and continue on through a series of festival headlining sets over the course of the year. Whatever fears we might’ve had that this would be similar to Outkast — come back, play a bunch of festivals, disappear again — were quelled when James Murphy wrote a letter on DFA’s site promising a new album this year. But those of us who are territorial about these things still had one question. Was he seriously going to play the first LCD reunion show at Coachella? There had to be something for his adopted hometown first, right? Sure enough, last week LCD Soundsystem announced two surprise reunion gigs at Manhattan’s Webster Hall. That’s the sort of small-ish but decent-sized venue they would’ve played back in the day, but amidst a series of goodbye shows at the larger Terminal 5 and the legendary Madison Square Garden, plus a series of festival headlining slots, it now feels like the sort of venue you won’t get to see LCD Soundsystem at a whole lot during their second lifetime.
Because it was Easter, LCD announced this show with customary tongue-in-cheek: a black and white poster with the band standing around like zombies, with a big header that said their name and then, below that, “BACK FROM THE DEAD.” (Below where it said “DOORS 8PM” it also said “(ROLL THE ROCK AWAY).”) Well, it was a hell of a resurrection party. LCD Soundsystem were one of the most formidable live acts around before they prematurely called it off in 2011, and all the goodbye fanfare and all of their other projects and all of Murphy’s non-musical endeavors in the interim have done nothing to diminish that. LCD are always focused and calculating technicians live, aligning sets and rise and fall movements, with perfect sound, to the best calibrated opportunity for catharsis. Given they’re such a group of consummate professionals, there wasn’t much reason to worry that, even at these warm-up gigs, there’d be anything lacking in this show. But it was still somewhat shocking to hear them get onstage, and have it sound as if absolutely no time has passed.
The whole thing started with “Get Innocuous!” — which is, if you ask me, the superior go-to LCD opener choice to “Dance Yrself Clean.” (The latter worked incredibly in the encore, instead.) That was followed by the only real hiccup of the night, where the band started to play “I Can Change” and quickly abandoned it due to what appeared to be some technical difficulties. Without the more direct (yet painful) pop of that song, the beginning of the set took on rather epic proportions: “Get Innocuous!” into all-time fan-favorite and banger “Daft Punk Is Playing At My House” into “Us V Them” and “You Wanted A Hit.” That meant that three of the first four songs were longform workouts from the band, cresting with the ruthless “Us V Them,” the kind of song that doesn’t let you go until it’s done with you, and the massive peaks of the live rendition of “You Wanted A Hit.”
After that, the band went fairly old school for a while, grouping early single and debut album standouts “Tribulations,” “Movement,” and “Yeah” close together as the main set approached its end. They also snuck in “Freak Out,” the welcome surprise of the night. (Somewhat embarrassingly, I really got to know this song through the two LCD goodbye shows I went to; five years later, it’s still the type of song to hardwire the heartbeat whenever you hear it, especially live in a room as small as Webster.) From there, the band made it clear they weren’t messing around for the rest of the night, stacking up “Someone Great,” “Losing My Edge,” “Home,” and “New York, I Love You But You’re Bringing Me Down” together. Which is almost like a brag, to be honest, because all four are the sort of killer, unbeatable closer songs most bands would kill to have one of, and LCD had them all next to each other (plus others that would also kill as closers). “Someone Great,” in particular, sounded larger than life in that room last night, its main synthline — perhaps the most concise synthesis of how LCD could do emotive and danceable so perfectly, so intertwined — feeling as if it was shaking the wall I was leaning against.
Murphy didn’t talk much through the night. “You guys seem alright, thank you,” he said in typically measured fashion towards the end of the set. “Thank you for doing whatever you did to be here.” That latter part is more telling about what it felt like to be at the show last night. Following that letter Murphy posted on DFA’s site, you know the guy has some things on his conscience. That he expected his detractors to hate on LCD for coming back so soon, but he hadn’t weighed what this reunion might do to the fans, and their memories of LCD’s first run or the goodbye show they tried so hard to see. That was a significant takeaway from last night: that seeing this band do this again, still at the peak of their powers, also felt like watching a group of individuals bringing back some of the best music of my generation, but playing it like kids who still had to earn everyone’s respect and attention. It felt like you were watching people who recognized how much passes in five years, and were grateful that people still gave a shit.
Shortly before the encore, Murphy got wry and dispensed with a bit of the whole encore ceremony. “We’re gonna play two songs and then we’re gonna go somewhere over there and someone’s gonna pee and then we’re gonna play two other songs,” he said. And at this point, it was pretty clear what still needed to happen. They closed the main set with “New York, I Love You…” but there was still no “All My Friends.” Naturally, they couldn’t actually do this show without playing “All My Friends,” right? Like, the greatest song of my generation? At the goodbye shows, that song was slotted far too early in the set, but had a bit of poignance since Murphy was singing “To tell the truth/this could be the last time,” in the show’s first act. This song belongs at the end of sets. There is no following the emotional impact of this thing—musically, thematically, whatever. And seeing the band bring it out as the final song of the night sealed the deal on this reunion.
Last night felt momentous on an intimate scale, one of our city’s major bands of this century, coming back finally. When Murphy got to the “To tell the truth” at the first LCD Soundsystem reunion show, he edited it, singing “This won’t be the last time” instead of “This could be the last time.” People cheered. People laughed. Here we were, hearing a version of that line again when a lot of us believed we’d never see that song live again, period. Here we were, ever-increasingly aware that the “last time” is a pretty fluid concept in the ’10s, but also pretty accepting of that when it leads to a resurrection as welcome and promising as the return of LCD Soundsystem. It was a little, beautiful moment when he sang “This could be the last time” at Madison Square Garden, with a bit of pain and wistfulness as things seemed to be going away for good. Last night, whether the band intended or not, “This won’t be the last time” registered like triumph. As in: Somehow this is happening again so let’s see where it goes. I felt a lot of things when Murphy sang that line at the goodbye show, and I’ll still value that experience. But this felt better.
“Daft Punk Is Playing At My House”
“Us V Them”
“You Wanted A Hit”
“Losing My Edge”
“New York, I Love You But You’re Bringing Me Down”
“Dance Yrself Clean”
“All My Friends”