LCD Soundsystem (photo: Jon Bauer)
I heard Kraftwerk’s “The Robots” for the first time at a suburban strip mall coffee shop when I was a kid. I remember thinking that it didn’t belong. I mean, amongst the drilling steam of the espresso machines and the precocious conversations of my fellow teenagers, “Robots” seemed like it was meant for some place more interesting. Some place where people were really interested discussing things like the ecstatic truth of Werner Herzog’s films or the pitfalls of third wave feminism or outsider art or…or maybe just drugs that were a little more chancy than a caffeine buzz.
Hearing “Robots” sampled during “Get Innocuous” at the LCD Soundsystem’s Saturday show at the Greek sent me into a serious spell of déjà vu. Once again, the setting didn’t seem to be living up the challenge of the music. This was music for darkly-lit clubs with unsavory sorts (or at least those pretending to be unsavory for the night), not music for picnic tables and $25 glasses of wine and eucalyptus-lined walkways.
Still, we all managed to soldier on. This was the middle show of a three-date engagement at the Greek. LCD has this quality live that doesn’t quite transfer through their recorded material. There’s this smoldery, late-stage David Byrne timbre, those lead-weighted vocals that came after his uranium-glow-manic years with Talking Heads, present in the LCD live sound that I just don’t get off the records.
Another perk of the live Soundsystem was that their unstated anti-shredding policy for guitars seems to be a studio-only construct. On stage, there were far less calculated moments that the orchestrated work that’s pressed on vinyl or blasted out onto digital platforms. During “I Can Change” there was a hint at downright reckless abandon for a moment that was rather enjoyable. I’m a sucker for rock and roll that seems downright aerobic on stage. The more sweat and struggle, the better. They reminded me of the Strokes that way. It’s better in person and maybe not quite all planned out.
It was a little strange that they only played three songs from American Dream, the album of which they are touring in support, but no one in the crowd seemed to mind. Every song was their favorite song. James Murphy breathed something into the microphone about “beautiful falsettos” and the man next to me let out an emotionally-wrought, “That’s so true!” while pointing at the stage. This was an intense fanbase. They loved it all.
And I have to say, so did I. LCD put on a great show.
As a parting note, it was a little sad to overhear someone say that “I Want Your Love,” a Chic cover, was their favorite song of Soundsystem’s. Nile Rodgers and company deserve all the credit for penning that epic disco love letter. Who else has ever rung in the somber din of unrequited love with as much funk as Chic? No one. Soundsystem’s spin on it was definitely enjoyable, but the soul of the song doesn’t belong to them.
I think that’s part of the magic of LCD. Nothing they are doing is too far into the realm of the original. They’re not charting new ground in any one direction, but they do loop in a large library of influences, arguably the lion’s share from a hip New York scene, to make something comfortably beautiful and every once in a while enthralling — even amongst picnic tables and eucalyptus trees.