When things age, they don’t always age according to plan. They don’t always please us quite how we might have expected. They change. They, for example, make a meal of announcing one decision, only to reverse it in a few short years. They get embroiled in messy label splits. They play disappointing, elitist crypto-bro hangouts. Hell, they even try and pull off ambitious residencies in cities struggling with Covid spikes. But maybe, just maybe, they remind you what it was all about in the first place, and pull off a show that – like the narrator in ‘Losing My Edge’ – you might proclaim years later that you were there.
Tonight, Friday, marks the mid-point of LCD Soundsytem’s six night residency at Brixton Academy to celebrate their twentieth year in operation. As James Murphy reminds us on stage tonight, the band could have done this at a larger hall, and it’s to their credit that they’re performing at a venue with capacity well south of the large, cavernous Alexandra Palace that marked their last London show. Within seconds of Pat Mahoney – initially alone on the large, dark stage – begins pounding out the rhythm to ‘Us V Them’, the decision is quickly vindicated. This is two hours of total immersive celebration, band and audience in symbiosis.
Murphy, in playful mood, stalks the stage in benevolent dictator mode. Every member gets their chance to shine. A bouncing ‘I Can Change’ has never sounded better than with the sharp addendum of Murphy singing Kraftwerk’s ‘Radioactivity’ over the introduction. Guitarist Al Doyle runs the gamut from the tight disco of his other band Hot Chip to the full, soaring Robert Fripp guitars brought most effectively to ‘This Is Everything’. Nancy Whang’s Brix Smith inspired vocals to ‘Other Voices’ delight, and act as a reminder that – for all the nightmare of its inception – ‘American Dream’ is that rarest of things, a genuinely unimpeachable comeback record.
Whilst Talking Heads comparisons have always been the lingua franca of writers covering this band, this set certainly displays one particular Stop Making Sense trait. Disparate material sounds suddenly alike, different eras smoothed out in an expansive, percussive funk. Clearly tight from their Brooklyn marathon last year, the earlier material from the group’s indie sleaze year sounds punchier and larger than ever before. ‘Daft Punk Is Playing At My House’ has never sounded better, whilst a seriously panel-beating ‘Tribulations’ is painted in moodier, more propulsive colours. It even cuts through the venue’s unloved PA system, which can dull some of the top end and even obscure Murphy’s between song riffing. “I was scared of you people” observes Murphy late in the set, reflecting on the group’s initial shows two decades ago in London, before beaming “I’m not scared anymore.”
A final victory lap of ‘Someone Great’, ‘Dance Yrself Clean’ and ‘All My Friends’ are a reminder that, for all their much vaunted hipster slaying, irony and treatise on ageing, LCD Soundsystem are loved because they aren’t afraid to deal in broad-brush themes of love, loss and friendship. Indeed, it’s almost amusing to hear quite how much these tracks have grown across these two decades – the end of ‘All My Friends’ having become an unlikely lads-in-the-air terrace chant. It works.
But what now for LCD Soundsystem? If, as Murphy has written, the band are almost ready to record, then they’re in the form of their lives. Things age, they change, they disappoint us, but not, it seems, irreversibly. And not LCD Soundsystem.
Words: Feral Kinney
Photography: Rachel Lipsitz