As I walked back to my office after lunch today I listened to LCD Soundsystem’s all-time great single, “All My Friends”, on my iPod. With each step, a series of (seemingly) hyperbolic thoughts danced in my head.
Among them: “All My Friends” was the best song of the past decade. No, the best song of my generation. LCD frontman James Murphy is a genius. That one’s undeniable.
It’s been nearly two weeks since LCD Soundsystem played its final show, a rousing 3-hour, 41-minute showcase at Madison Square Garden in New York. I am bummed that the band won’t be releasing more music or touring.
I have to remind myself they released three great albums and I have splendid memories of them playing live — both of which I will continue to enjoy immensely.
I had the good fortune of seeing LCD Soundsystem play twice in 2010 — the first time at Stubb’s BBQ in Austin, Texas, and then at the Pitchfork Music Festival in Chicago later that summer.
They were one of the few transcendent bands whose live show and recorded output operated on a similarly stellar plane.
Oddly enough, my introduction to LCD Soundsystem came during the worst non-date of my life.
‘GET INNOCUOUS’ UNTIL YOUR EARS BLEED
The first time I heard LCD Soundsystem I was riding with a petite brunette I hardly knew down the interstate to New Orleans. She cranked her car stereo to “42″, the max volume, so we couldn’t converse. This was my first time hanging with her. What a disaster!
The LCD Soundsystem song she played was “Get Innocuous!” I asked her to turn the music down. She kept driving. I doubt she heard me. She was an ass and a flake but she had good music taste. (No, I didn’t rip that from Craig Finn’s lyrics book.) She reminded me as I left her car “this was not a date.”
I never saw this particular cray cray again. But she holds a special distinction because she was the person who introduced me to LCD Soundsystem.
At the time I had heard of LCD Soundsystem but not heard them. I was anti-dance music. Looking back, I blame Pitchfork’s love of The Rapture for my skepticism.
Little did I know LCD Soundsystem was so much more than dance music. Sure, they were influenced by disco, but they also found inspiration in the Talking Heads and krautrock and a whole host of other musical forms.
Four years later I am glad she was the one who played LCD Soundsystem for me. You see, at the time, all I wanted to do was focus on her music. To focus on her would have been an exercise in sadomasochism. Had it been someone else, “Get Innocuous” might have passed without a second thought.
So I listened. And asked her to turn the music down again. And then asked her what we were listening to. Voila! This elicited a response. “LCD Soundsystem,” the brunette said flippantly.
I remembered the name and soon after picked up a copy of the band’s seminal second album, Sounds of Silver.
SOUNDS OF SILVER: DESERT ISLAND ALBUM
Today, Sounds of Silver is one of my desert island albums. Whether they reflect something as primal as a need to dance or as universal as a desire to be with friends, the nine songs on the album are all classics in their own way.
What I like about LCD Soundsystem, or I should say one of the things I like about them, is they are a critically acclaimed band you don’t have to be a critic to enjoy. That’s not often the case. Often it seems critics are trying to show off their vast musical knowledge by trumpeting up avant garde tripe that is unlistenable (i.e., Panda Bear, early Animal Collective).
But LCD Soundsystem is the polar opposite of this phenomenon.
Songs like “Someone Great” and “All My Friends” convey relatable sentiments with intelligent lyrics and sonic palettes with high replay values. They can be viewed as pop or art or pop art. They are meant to be enjoyed.
“Us v. Them” sounds wonderful on disc with its giddy cowbell and repetitive chants of “us and them over and over again.” But live it took on a whole new life with LCD Soundsystem’s ass-shaking duel percussion and Murphy imploring the audience to chime in the “them” part like a new age maestro of all things cool.
Sure, Murphy was an aging hipster. But he had/has a ton of heart and was never afraid to show it, even at the risk of sounding sentimental (i.e., “New York I Love You But You’re Bring Me Down”).
“New York I Love You … ” is such a mesmerizing, miraculous piece of music that I could see it one day usurping “All My Friends” as this album’s most beloved song. Yes, I know that seems blasphemous now. But just maybe it could happen.
“New York I Love You … ” was certainly the most bittersweet live song the band played. The merger of the song with an acapella rendition of Alicia Keys’ part on “Empire State of Mind” was just divine. But the song’s appearance also meant LCD Soundsystem’s time on stage was drawing to an end.
They always knew how to go out on top.
SEEING LCD LIVE WAS A WOW EXPERIENCE
Before last summer, I hadn’t listened to much of LCD Soundsystem’s recorded output besides Sounds of Silver.
You ever hear a song so good you play that song on repeat and neglect the rest of the album? That was my experience with Sounds of Silver and the rest of LCD Soundsystem’s catalog.
Sure, I listened to the band’s third and final album, This is Happening, when it came out, but not nearly as much as some other albums that came out last year (i.e., Arcade Fire’s Suburbs).
My appreciation for LCD Soundsystem’s body of work became markedly stronger after seeing them at Stubb’s.
That show astounded me. There was an incredible amount of energy reciprocated between the crowd and the performers. It provided a natural high like few other concerts I have attended.
Songs like “Yeah!” that I either had not heard or chosen to ignore sounded like the best music ever when LCD Soundsystem played them live. The crowd chanted and danced and pumped their fists like they were listening to their favorite band in the comfort of their own home. It was a wow experience.
Weeks later, I watched LCD Soundsystem from the front row at Pitchfork. Albeit the whole time I was fighting the crowd, which moved in a viscous fashion, back and forth, up and down. I worried about being trampled. That took some of the joy from the experience.
Not all LCD Soundsystem live shows are created equal, I guess. However, the band’s effort that night was once again top-notch. The effort of the drunk boys and girls in the crowd … not so much.
LCD CAPTURED THE ESSENCE OF EARLY 21ST CENTURY AMERICA
Since seeing LCD Soundsystem live, I have a new appreciation for early gems like “Daft Punk Is Playing My House” and “Tribulations.” I imagine both will be on my playlist for years to come.
“Drunk Girls” and “Home” off This Is Happening will be too. Oh, and “All I Want.” What a fantastic song! The line “all I want is your bitter tears” is just devastating.
In some ways, growing to love the band’s entire catalog made the news they were calling it quits tougher. Ideally, I would have liked to have seen them live for years to come.
It’s easy to romanticize a band’s work so soon after they announce their retirement. Especially if they were a band whose output and relevance didn’t flicker at the end.
Of course the band’s legacy will live on. Each time I hear them in my headphones or in my car or at a party or in the grocery store it makes me smile. I know I am not the only one. LCD Soundsystem captured an invaluable slice of what it was like to live in a 21st century America searching for an identity …. and a friend.