It’s not every day one feels genuinely sorry for James Murphy.
The LCD Soundsystem front man not only broke his band up, but did so after the promoters of his April 2011 Madison Square Garden concert suggested he needed “some extra element” to fill the seats. “It wasn’t a total lark, but it was a bit larky,” he admitted after reuniting the band five years later. (LCD guitarist Al Doyle later tweeted, not quite convincingly, that “it wasn’t to grub ticket money” but “to make the show something incredible, something singular, strange and unrepeatable.”)
Murphy stayed busy during LCD’s absence. He spun records. He opened a wine bar and got gout. He designed a high-end hi-fi system in Ibiza. He composed music for subway turnstiles in New York. If he wasn’t precisely a gentleman of leisure, he was as close as anyone in the gig economy was likely to become. In any event, it was difficult to imagine actually pitying him.
You wouldn’t necessarily weep for the guy in the white T-shirt and dark dress jacket onstage at Roy Wilkins Auditorium last night, either—he wouldn’t want you to, for one thing. For another, Murphy was clearly having a good time up there, and so was his band, anchored by the same folks who’d turned LCD Soundsystem from a one-person studio project to a full-fledged live juggernaut capable of filling auditoriums and arenas. “We just played three shows in Chicago—everyone was far away,” Murphy said after the show opener, “Oh Baby.” “This is much nicer—this is closer.”
No, you might feel sorry for Murphy for the same reason you felt sorry for your fellow show-goers: Roy Wilkins sounds like shit. It has always sounded like shit. Unless the venue’s owners are about to take measures such as saturating the inside of the ceiling with Super Glue and shooting sandbags at it, it is always going to sound like shit. Those are the wages of its operation.
You’d think an audiophile like Murphy might have objected to playing in such a place, but nah, he just wants to entertain his people. This makes a special kind of sense once you’ve been in a Twin Cities LCD Soundsystem crowd. Turns out a lot of people at the show look like James Murphy – aging, unshaven Irish Catholics.
Murphy was in uncommonly good fettle, clear voiced and up, his falsetto particularly flexible. On “I Can Change” in particular, he made the most out of that ordinary-guy tone. And the band was equally crisp – you could hear it on a spare arrangement such as the swelling “Someone Great,” still wrenching a decade later.
Unfortunately, what emanated from the stage turned into something like an amok smoke machine as it gathered schmutz on its way to my balcony seat. My favorite ever LCD song, “Get Innocuous!,” was particularly ill served in this manner: Even as drummer Pat Mahoney powered the groove like a tank, the music reached the upper deck as a frustrating wash. Keyboardist-singer Nancy Whang’s late-song vocals sounded like she was underwater, and she was the clearest thing in the mix.
These aural shenanigans did not dissuade the assembled, and their collective good time could be catching. When LCD finished their noncore (“We're gonna play some songs,” Murphy explained, “then we're gonna go over there and pee, and then we're gonna come back and play more songs”) with “All My Friends,” even with Murphy adjusting some drums throughout the first verse, even the schmutz couldn't kill it.
Click here to see photos of LCD Soundsystem rocking the Roy
Notes on the opener: When I saw “Special guest: Traxx” on the show info, I thought, no, it can’t be that Traxx—the Chicago DJ-producer born Melvin Oliphant III, one of the fiercest house spinners ever. But lo and behold, it really was him. What a thrill it must have been for him to be playing records for a bunch of white people who didn’t dance.
The crowd: Very white-bro. In the gents, I overheard talk about Matisyahu and spied a Sublime hoodie. When Nancy Whang led the band in a cover of Chic’s disco classic “I Want Your Love,” almost nobody seemed to know the words.
Overheard in the crowd: As LCD finished their main set with “New York, I Love You But You’re Bringing Me Down,” somebody behind me volunteered this info: “New York? That's the shittiest fucking city! 30 million people? Fuck that.”
Critic’s bias: No interest in the new stuff, sorry.
Random notebook dump: [During “New York, I Love You”]: Someone to my front left raises an actual lighter. Irony sucks, kids.
Daft Punk Is Playing At My House
I Can Change
Call The Police
You Wanted a Hit
Change Yr Mind
I Want Your Love (Chic cover, sung by Nancy Whang)
New York, I Love You But You're Bringing Me Down
Dance Yrself Clean
All My Friends