James Murphy only makes big statements. Even the tiny minority of LCD Soundsystem songs that run less than five minutes long are dense with drama. Movement, the shortest track in the band’s catalogue, compensates for its more conventional runtime with a maelstrom climax that hits you like a cricket ball to the cranium. He is a man, and they are a band, for whom half measures are inconceivable. There are no filler tracks on LCD Soundsystem records, just as there are no raw sounds; every hi-hat snap, every keyboard bloop undergoes tireless processing, usually involving filters and generous decays.
So really, it shouldn’t have been much of a surprise at all when Murphy announced that he and founding members Nancy Whang and Pat Mahoney would be reuniting six years after they played their “last ever” gig together in Madison Square Gardens, a full stop which was accompanied by a feature-length documentary and three hour, five LP box set. Many (myself included) felt somewhat betrayed by the news. Endings are emotional events already, but this one was a one of a kind in pop music; Murphy had chosen neither to burn out, nor to fade away, but to quit while the iron was hot, securing an impeccable legacy and creating a historic moment in music history we’d all gotten to share.
In light of the new record however, it’s easy to forgive Murphy for leading us on, because clearly the guy who named his latest collection of dance rock music nothing less than American Dream is susceptible to getting a little carried away. Of course LCD couldn’t simply go on what turned out to be a fairly routine hiatus; Murphy had to put on a funeral. And it only takes one listen to the new album to remind you that it was that same taste for bombast coupled with his absurd passion that helped Murphy connect with so many in the first place.
So it shouldn’t have been much of a surprise either that LCD Soundsystem returning to the Barrowlands six years and 10 months later to play largely the same material turned out not to be a back-patting tribute to the band’s heyday but a firm reassertion of James Murphy and co as contemporary act. What seemed in danger of being a self-indulgent nostalgia trip (priced at £40 a pop) that diluted the integrity of the band’s initial run turned out to be a generous tearing down of the walled garden of legacy, an event that invited latecomers or younger fans (I’m the former) who weren’t there the first time around to be a part of the glorious ongoing phenomenon that is LCD Soundsystem.
So that’s the context out the way. It was also just a bloody good gig. “There’s a right way and a wrong way to play Glasgow,” Murphy told The List before the band played the Barrowlands in 2010, and it turns out the right way is to get the sound perfect, keep the banter short and to make every single moment count. Get Innocuous! was a clever choice of opener, a tense slow-burner that ramps up the intensity as each band member entered the fray, ratcheting up the already scorching sense of anticipation like a flame snaking along the fuse of a cartoon bomb. I Can Change kept the fire burning, the wonky lead part played with gusto by Gavin Russom, who looked something between a telephone operator and a starship captain in her synth lair at the back of the stage, but it was in response to the opening bars of Call the Police that the crowd finally exploded.
This was the moment that justified LCD’s return and resolutely swept aside all the (in the end, fairly trivial) mythologising that surrounded their six year break. The driving bass and Mahoney’s galloping drums, gathering speed with every chorus like a rocket in lift-off; Whang and guitarist Al Doyle supplying ecstatic harmonies; the crowd belting out the words so loudly that Murphy’s voice got lost in the din: it was clear to me I was hearing the sound of a new anthem being born.
Tonite, the other new single on the setlist, was just as thrilling, with blinding strobes lights that pulsed in sync with chorus, while album cut I Used To took things in an eerier direction, briefly dipping a toe into the darker tone that characterises much of the new album. “That’s a sonic palette I’ve wanted to sing in front of for a bunch of years”, Murphy commented.
In a typically meta move, Murphy broke down what was ahead as we passed the hour mark – he and the band would vacate the stage for approximately four minutes “to go pee” before returning to play a new song and some old ones. The new one was Emotional Haircut, sandwiched between the three big hitters, Losing My Edge, Dance Yrself Clean and, of course, All My Friends. Things got daft during Dance Yrself Clean, the Barrowlands’ sprung dancefloor launching plenty an audience member into the air but the final track ushered in a whole other type of energy, a bittersweet euphoria that had us all ringing in a mixture of spilled beer, sweat and tears.
One of the most memorable moments in Shut Up and Play Hits, the aforementioned documentary of LCD Soundsystem’s “last” show, is a shot of a teenager crying alone to himself after the lights come up. I saw Glasgow’s own version of that kid as we filled out the Barrowlands: a boy in a white t-shirt crouched on the floor, mouth open and eyes wide as people shuffled around him. That, for me, was the proof. Six years later, this is still happening.
For more on LCD Soundsystem and their tour click here.