LCD Soundsystem review – dream band back from the dead

Glasgow Barrowlands
Six years after their ‘farewell’ show, James Murphy’s dance-punk magpies have returned, bigger and bolder than ever

Before a snare is hit, before LCD Soundsystem supremo James Murphy starts gesticulating at the monitor sound desk, there is a charge in the air. It telegraphs the delight that, to paraphrase one of LCD Soundsystem’s album titles, this is actually happening.

A gig that should not have been, this second night in Glasgow promotes a fourth LCD album – the recently released American Dream – that should not have been, either. Lairy gratitude informs the dancing that erupts with the first keyboard blobs of Get Innocuous!, LCD’s perfect set-opening gambit. Second only to Oasis as a lauded pilferer of others’ catalogues, Murphy grafts the vocals of David Bowie on to the synth lines of Kraftwerk, somehow making it sound all LCD. (A fab graphic rendition online illustrates the track’s structure.)

This Soundsystem was meant to be boxed up in storage, crystal displays extinguished, its leader deep into his next obsession: fatherhood, coffee or, indeed, other sound systems (Despacio, a high-fidelity mobile clubbing rig). Murphy, a keen observer of the minutiae of greatness, dreamed up the perfect murder of his band: farewell stint at New York’s Madison Square Garden (2011), documentary and box set of the performance (2014). LCD’s iconic status would be assured.

And then Murphy sabotaged his own narrative arc. Fortunately, American Dream was well worth the recall. A No 1 in the US, it revises the LCD story line: an about-face turned into triumph. You wanted a hit? asked one old LCD song, tetchily. They have one now.

Soon, LCD are feeding their new songs into the dense mix of analogue synths, live instrumentation, monstrously good percussion and Murphy’s gruff-camp frontmanship. Having taken some steroids since its recorded version, Call the Police is just great, beginning with an existential slump – “We all know this is nothing,” croons Murphy, Zen-like – climbing up through LCD’s gears, towards another lyrical depth charge: “We do the best we can!”

‘Gruff-camp’ frontman James Murphy
‘Gruff-camp’ frontman James Murphy. Photograph: Katherine Anne Rose/The Observer

If American Dream is about anything, it is how to live now – obliquely, of course, via the lens of music, relationships, regrets and Murphy’s hangdog “kids today!” observations. Soon, I Used To finds the nostalgic Murphy channelling his inner Robert Smith, icy early 80s synths throbbing around the room.

The LCD of this American Dream tour are not so much a band reborn as subtly evolved, eight-strong now, and sounding like it. Gavin Russom came out as transgender in July and, tonight, inhabits a 1930s bathing beauty persona while issuing penetrating oscillations from mission control at the back. Nancy Whang’s hair is bigger than you remember, but her playing is just as punctilious and LCD’s secret weapon deservedly gets a mid-set chant of her name.

Murphy spends the gig messing with drummer Pat Mahoney, trying to put this syncopated human metronome off his stride. Tyler Pope (also of the band !!!) put some good music out in the summer and makes a face at Murphy when Losing My Edge – LCD’s first anthem, to music snobbery, ageing and how punk dance music can sound – doesn’t last as long as some other versions. “We’ve only got 20 minutes left!” frets Murphy, pointing at the large digital countdown on stage (he’s the kind of guy who uses a set book, not just a setlist). Multi-instrumentalists Al Doyle (Hot Chip), Korey Richey and Matt Thornley swap, feed back, solo and make for double-drummer assaults.

Seeing this reinforced, even more mighty setup anew, they make virtually all other bands look like amateurs for stopping between songs. LCD are the masters of the segue, skilfully dovetailing a slew of mid-set songs into a seamless DJ mix, with a punky synth freak-out woven in.

Ecstatic cheers ring out when a Giorgio Moroder bass line drops into You Wanted a Hit (“Perfect,” mouths Murphy, either to Mahoney or the monitor mix person). Soon, the groove becomes Tribulations (New Order is the source here), which in turn evolves via Movement into a long workout of Yeah (disco and acid house). Gradually, this beast then morphs into Someone Great, one of LCD’s seals of quality. Grappling with grief at the death of a therapist, Murphy seems to be singing about everyone else too: Bowie, Lou Reed… the list goes grimly on.

If American Dream had to punch very hard to equal LCD’s catalogue, its jaw-shattering right hook is Tonite. Another exquisite distillation of how all life passes through the prism of music, it’s about how we’re all going to die. Our time is finite, but tunes can make it “feel like for ever”. LCD’s execution stayed, we dance on for now.


Kitty Empire

The GuardianTramp

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