As much as I love LCD Soundsystem, I’ve been to the Brixton Academy quite a few times, so feel qualified to declare that its sound quality sucks. Animal Collective, Yeah Yeah Yeahs, Hot Chip, lord knows you all tried your best to make it work, but Brixton wasn’t co-operating. You all put on great shows; they just could have been that much better somewhere else. I was cautiously optimistic.
‘It’s been so long since we’ve been in London’. If they hadn’t just played opener, ‘Us v Them’, twice due to the keys being broken on the first take – a fact largely unnoticed, apart from those close enough to see keyboardist Nancy Whang remonstrating– such a statement would interpreted as standard crowd banter, making nice with the audience, but in this instance, coming from the heavy figure of James Murphy, it’s closer to an apology, a hint that the band might not be up to taking on the cavernous acoustics of Brixton Academy.
As a frontman, he cuts an awkward shape: his lyrics are conflicted, self-aware, analytical; his physical build is very Fred Flintstone and when he’s not obsessively moving about stage, tweaking sounds emitting from the band’s vast arsenal of machinery, he’s gesturing to the wings to turn it up, turn it down – all whilst spewing out world-weary melancholia through that vintage mic that is forever glued to his lips. Oh, and he occasionally makes time to dance in the most understated fashion, but totally unself-conscious way, too.
Usually such an obsession with perfection is damaging, but he’s always right. No one noticed the keys missing on the first take of ‘Us v Them’ but everyone preferred the second take. There’s a moment, around three minutes in, on new track, ‘Pow Pow’, where a simple bass groove suddenly cuts into the mix – you never noticed it wasn’t there on the studio version and certainly most of the crowd won’t realise that something so initially innocuous is missing on a yet to be released track in a live setting, nonetheless he marches across stage and turns up the bassist’s amp when another one of the venue’s gremlins appears. He cuts a vaguely heroic figure. I mean, this is the guy who coined the line, ‘borrowed nostalgia for the unremembered eighties’ rendered more prophetic than ever in a scene of twenty-somethings, endlessly toiling to create music that sounds pre-aged, recovered off dusty VHS tapes. A world pre-Chillwave, before Harrison Ford agreed to the Indiana Jones remake, before Ashes to Ashes, before Rickrolling. The guy’s already pretty heroic.
The success of this herculean struggle is appreciated; people’s impression of the show is mixed and even from a cosy, central position the vocals are murky – not that it matters when everyone is determined to list every band in that bit of ’Losing My Edge’ – but the effort is more than welcome.
The rest of the gig lurches between disco workouts, rowdy – but considered – moshing and sombre, head-nodding reflection in the way that perhaps only a LCD Soundsystem gig can: after hipster posturing (Losing My Edge) and frat boy chant (Drunk Girls, greeted like an old favourite) we’re suddenly down in the teary deliberation of All My Friends. It’s a meticulously planned exercise, just when things threaten to descent into a sweaty mindless rave; you’re grounded again with an elegiac ‘Someone Great’. The respectful applause to James’ tribute to loved ones lost juxtaposed with an excited crush in reception to a messy ‘Daft Punk’ is intense stuff, and all entirely respectful and earnest; a welcome reminder that it’s possible to engage the heart without being smaltzy and move feet without being inane. Testaments to a band’s ability to not only meld together genres and influences, but moods too, don’t come much more convincing. The band are at the height of their powers and, as omniscient as James Murphy’s judgement is , it seems a shame to call it a day.