It wasn’t this past Friday, but the previous one, that I saw James Murphy for the first time. There he was, in the flesh—complete with his signature cyclonic hair and 7:45 shadow, he was unmistakable in his home borough. That day marked the opening of the latest seven-show residency for Murphy’s beloved band, LCD Soundsystem, at Williamsburg’s newest venue, Brooklyn Steel. But it wasn’t inside the 1,800-capacity space that I saw him for the first time. Nope—in fact, no music was even being played. Just steps away from my apartment, on my way to a coffee shop to work for the day, there he was—sitting on a bench, chatting with someone and sipping on a coffee. Serene.
This was a far cry from the tireless James Murphy that I would see on that very Brooklyn Steel stage just five days later, finally a patron of an LCD Soundsystem concert for the very first time. Wednesday night’s show for the reunited electro-dance-rock group marked the fifth show of the current residency at the venue—10th of the year so far, after a five-show run back in April, ahead of two more in June, and another run of ten (!!!) more to close out the year in December.
This being the first time I was finally seeing one of my all-time favorite bands—one that I thought as recently as two years ago would never play again—the only sensible option was to arrive at the venue with ample time to secure a good spot to see everyone in action, doing what they do best. And that I did—arriving inside the venue at 8:15 for a 9:30 show start. And once it came time for the show to begin, sans an opening act, everything went straight to eleven.
This is a really obvious thing to say, given it was a sold-out show in a broad series of what will most certainly turn out to be 22 sold-out shows, but the energy and excitement inside the venue was unmatched by any other I’ve seen this year. From the moment the set kicked off with “Call the Police,” the first single off the band’s upcoming fourth full-length album (recently announced with a September 1st release date) it was off to the races.
It’s hard to even describe what one would typically refer to as “set highlights,” because every single second, every single note of this 16-song set was nothing short of spectacular. From the perfectly synced light usage, to each of the 6-8 band members on stage making everything sound just right, it’s hard to pick out anything of a highlight. Was it the room-wide crooning singalong syndrome with which “New York I Love You, But You’re Bringing Me Down” infected the entire room? Was it the early-set selection of “Daft Punk Is Playing At My House”? Or was it the encore debut of three songs off of the recently-announced fourth record, along with other new single “American Dream”?
It’s the kind of spectacle that makes you wish that you had something to show for it—but, by design, you won’t see much. James Murphy really, really does not like people having their cell phones out during the shows. “I see every one,” he told the assembled crowd. And throughout the show, it seemed like he really did, pointing at people mid-song, never stopping his vocals—a gesture that quickly came to a universally understood meaning: get that shit out of here.
Being the intrepid reporter I am, though, I did manage to snag a couple of crappy pics on my phone without getting caught (sorry James!). This is the closest you’ll get to feeling the mood inside:
Unquestionably, though, it’s impossible to talk about the catharsis of seeing an LCD show without talking about the moment. If you’ve ever listened to the band, you know what I’m talking about—and so does everyone else.
When Murphy finally spit it out, opening up the band’s live rendition of “Dance Yrself Clean,” there was a natural feeling of build-up, antsiness, and excitement, the same way a giant ocean wave hits someone looking right at it. You know it’s coming, you know what you’re getting, and there’s nothing you can do about it. And then it started: “Walking up to me, expecting…”
And then that drop hits. And it’s everything you imagine it would be, and more. I’ve watched live LCD performances of this song on YouTube before, and it simply does not do reality justice. Elton John famously sung about a “solid wall of sound,” and I can’t think of any better way of describing the entire experience of seeing LCD Soundsystem. You know what you’re getting, and then you’re blasted with it. Sound, from all angles. It’s a wave; it’s a wall.
A lot of my time lately has been devoted to reading through Lizzy Goodman’s tremendously-revealing, unbelievably-addicting pageturner of an oral history on the 2001-2011 era of New York City Rock, Meet Me In The Bathroom. James Murphy, as part of the DFA production team, a co-founder of DFA Records, and, of course, the driving force of LCD Soundsystem, is a huge part of the book, chiming in consistently throughout—he’s been a constant presence ever since starting his career out in bands and as a DJ. Reading through that book and finally being lucky enough to see this spectacular performer in the flesh—both in dormant, coffee-sipping form, and then in relentless frontman form, banging on bonus percussion with finessed precision during vocal breaks, it almost felt like seeing a unicorn. This wasn’t a fairy-tale moment, or a Tupac hologram. This was real. This was happening in front of my eyes. This is happening in front of our eyes.
LCD Soundsystem’s original bow-out album title rings true—in more ways than one, there’s no other way to describe it: This is happening.
Photo illustrations by Morgan McMullen