LCD Soundsystem
Hollywood Palladium; Los Angeles, CA

Photo: Henry Moffly

To put it in James Murphy’s terms, I was there. I remember the day that LCD Soundsystem announced their tenure as a band would be coming to an end, that after three albums they had decided to put a cap on what I thought at the time was one of the most legendary runs in modern rock music. I remember trying to buy tickets for the final Madison Square Garden show, only to be thwarted by one of the most insane scalping-bot buyouts I have seen to this day. I remember the relief that washed over me when Murphy announced there would be a string of Terminal 5 shows the week before, all comprising the same three-hour, career-spanning setlist, and I remember buying my ticket and taking the bus from Boston to New York to say goodbye to one of my favorite bands.

The LCD Soundsystem reunion has, to put it lightly, caused me a great deal of self-reckoning and re-evaluation, and James Murphy knows this. His post-announcement apology to the fans that he let down by reuniting was, if anything, a testament to the idea that Murphy remains a fanboy-as-rock-star, as close to being “one of us” as it gets when we’re talking about the constantly satellite position of being a nerdy record collector. It was that embodiment of the outsider-looking-in that drew me to LCD Soundsystem’s music in the first place, but in the five years that passed in the band’s absence, my perspective on their music changed. Where before, it felt exciting to listen to a group of artists whose observer’s stance in music felt in tandem with my own, now it seemed strangely embarrassing to listen to a song in which a 32-year-old man lists off all the obscure bands he likes in an attempt to reclaim his “edge” (and its supposed irony only made it worse). What I had begun to realize since leaving college is that treating music as if it is the center of the universe, rather than just as one beautiful reflection of it, is a dangerous way to go about living life, making the once-lovable nerdiness of LCD Soundsystem now seem like an image of my younger self that I’d rather leave behind.

But all personal associations aside, when I saw the band at FYF a year ago, any reservations that I had about their reunion just washed away. Even as I stood in the crowd, thinking about how this was the first time I had seen a band both before and after they had broken up (which even at age 24, made me feel old), it simply didn’t matter compared to the sheer joy I felt dancing along to songs like “Us v Them” or “Yeah.” They sounded as amazing as ever, and I walked out of the festival relieved to know that a group of people having fun making music together was ultimately more important and satisfying than any B.S. notion of a perfect, untouchable three-album canon could ever be.

Fast forward a year, and the band is touring on the back of their not-bad/not-great new record, American Dream. They lined up five nights at the Hollywood Palladium in Los Angeles, and our same group of friends that we lost our shit with at FYF the year before all agreed to go. The tickets came out to a devastating $100 each, which right off the bat set an unfortunately high level of expectations for the night, and stood as a sobering reminder of just what sort of act LCD really are these days. Nonetheless, we were all excited, and even if the new album only had two or three keepers on it, we knew the band weren’t ones to walk on and do nothing but new material. The hits would be played.

Unfortunately, this Hollywood Palladium show would end up confirming most of my original anxieties about LCD’s return. One of the driving sentimental themes behind LCD Soundsystem’s music is the idea that no matter how cool and young you may have been at one point, no matter how golden your glory days might have been, you still can’t go back. That melancholy reach towards the past is at the heart of Murphy’s party music, and though at their best, LCD Soundsystem manage to use that nostalgia to uncover invigorating new emotional territory of their own, this show at the Hollywood Palladium felt more like a formulaic re-tread than an inspired victory lap. For the first time, the band just didn’t have that spark, and as they ran through all the necessary crowdpleasers and a small helping of new tracks, it began to set in that this reunion was perhaps less an act of old friends getting together to do what they love, but instead something much more dreary: we were just watching them clock in.

The show was off from the very beginning, with normally electric cuts like “Get Innocuous!” and “Daft Punk Is Playing at My House” sounding muddied, lacking their usual sense of gradually building bite. LCD songs thrive on their dynamics, their sense of patience, but for most of the show the band just seemed to plow through track after track, with little of the nuance that has epitomized their greatest work. A few songs into the set, Murphy asked everyone in the audience to shut off their phones, requesting that we all stop taking pictures and instead share this moment together and experience something real and blah blah blah. This type of comment has always struck me as pretentious no matter the show, but it seemed especially strange in Murphy’s case. For a band whose rise coincided with that of social media platforms like Instagram and Facebook, whose very first single declared the social currency implicit in saying “I was there,” and who even went so far as to stage a “final” run of concerts that essentially drew a line in the sand for fans of the band – either you were going to be one of the people at these legendary shows, or you weren’t – it seems to me that the very idea of taking pictures at a concert to show one’s friends is one that Murphy’s music has fed into from the beginning. I find it odd and a bit hypocritical that Murphy would act above this kind of behavior.

In spite of the show’s weaker moments, there were a handful of songs wherein the band’s chemistry would suddenly kick back into gear, illustrating how exciting they can be when they’re truly in their element. “You Wanted a Hit” was a slow-burning monster, and the immediate one-two follow-up of “Tribulations” and “Movement” made for a mini rollercoaster of mosh-dancing that brought the evening to a delirious frenzy. The encore began with a powerful take on “Oh Baby,” the best song off American Dream, and climaxed with the still-amazing “Dance Yrself Clean,” which, as expected, lifted every single person in the room off the floor once the beat dropped three minutes in. During these intermittent periods of high-energy release, I regained some kind of hope that perhaps LCD does still have some life left in it as a project, that in spite of the band’s weaker versions of classics like “Someone Great” and “All My Friends,” there was still a well-oiled rhythm machine in there somewhere, one capable of making bodies move regardless of whatever legacy it may have wrapped itself up in so tightly.

By and large, it was still a fun night, if just for the fact that going to a show with all my friends to see a band that we all love will always be fun. Even the band’s limper songs were still enjoyable to have happening in the background while I caught up with my crew, but until now, LCD had never been a band that I would’ve willfully talked over at a show. We’re all getting older, and to be frank, with LCD Soundsystem’s music aging the way it has, I couldn’t really be too surprised that the show would end up being somewhat lackluster – I had been expecting as much a year before when I had seen them at FYF. But the fact is, that show a year ago was incredible, and it gave me the hope that this one would be just as good, which renders it all the more disappointing. Maybe Murphy was wrong; maybe you can actually can go back to the glory days for one night. You just can’t stay there.

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