Preconceptions are dangerous things. I’m guessing that some of mine may hold true if ever realised. I’m pretty convinced that Donald Trump is a thick obnoxious bully, Tom Cruise really is a short dodgy scientologist and Victoria Coren-Mitchell and her husband David would be a hoot at a dinner party.
I’m pleased to say though that on Friday night I had one of preconceptions dismissed.
LCD Soundsystem aren’t just a studio project that doesn’t translate to the live environment. In fact, quite the opposite is true.
Having complained about the booking policy of the Southbank Centre in a recent post, firstly a big shout out to whoever is handling artist booking at Ally Pally. We have a cracking run of gigs lined up – Lorde, Wolf Alice, The War On Drugs to follow, Interpol just gone. Liam Gallagher and Phoenix are playing here before Christmas. From an entirely selfish perspective, when the venue is within walking distance of home, you are more tempted to take a punt at seeing an artist that may not be on your “must see” list.
LCD Soundsystem fall into that category for me. Whilst I’ve always admired their music, their albums (which is the normal context for me listening to an artist) have not always completely grabbed me. They’ve got a tendency to be overly long, a crime which this year’s comeback “American Dream” is guilty of. When they hit their stride though, they can be fantastic. 2007’s “Sound Of Silver” well and truly avoided second album syndrome. However I had it in my head that James Murphy was a characterless studio bod who painstakingly created new versions of older music close to my heart but without their soul.
It just goes to show how wrong you can be.
Live, Murphy is a compelling front man. A bit on the rotund side, the wrong side of 40 with unruly hair and a hole in his t-shirt, well it really shouldn’t work. But it does. Vocally he uses his range skilfully, drifting into the occasional falsetto. He is engaging, chatting easily and clearly has an empathetic relationship with his band. Clutching his vintage Sennheiser microphone, he is perpetual motion. Never far away from some piece of percussion to whack, Murphy is the ring leader for a bunch of the achingly cool musicians.
The gig is an object lesson in how to full off these type of shows. He is in the middle of his band with the drummer at the front right. I always feel that sticking the drummer at the rear of the stage is a missed opportunity. They are generally the most kinetic and watchable of musicians. The assorted keyboard players, guitarists and percussionists are fluid, moving from space to space, up and down the risers. Nothing is static. Nancy Whang, his regular sidekick, has probably the most elegantly sharp haircut I’ve seen in a long time.
It looks like we are watching a studio workshop session and it is all the more thrilling for it. It is Jonathan Demme’s “Stop Making Sense” aesthetic reconstructed. It reminds me of one of my favourite New Order clips playing in the BBC studios in 1984. Everyone is facing each other, the analogue equipment looks like it is on the verge of packing in. It is thrilling stuff and the LCD live experience is cut from the same cloth.
The use of video technology is excellent too. Two large screens keep everyone informed and the go-pro static cameras remove the impact of otherwise obtrusive camera crews. The crystal clear sound is first class also.
Whilst it is fair to say that LCD’s music is derived from some classic record collection references, it is done lightly, never wearing the influences too heavily. The constantly shifting backbeat sets the dance party tone and the self deprecating side of Murphy a la the encore’s “Losing My Edge” ensures things don’t get taken too seriously. The set is balanced fairly evenly across the band’s four LPs and the new material from this year’s “American Dream” drops seemlessly in alongside the old. “Emotional Haircut” is bracing, the hard rhythm of “I Used To” is bold and “Call The Police” joins the pantheon of LCD dance classics.
The evening ends predictably with the anthemic “All My Friends”, most of the crowd singing along, arms aloft. As my mate Mark says it, it does borrow from “Heroes” but then Bowie was never afraid of a bit of skilful plundering, was he?
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