The weight of nostalgia can pose a challenge for any reunited band touring new material. But in the case of LCD Soundsystem — a band that rose to success while mocking its own assured, eventual demise — the stakes felt even higher at Friday night’s show at Agganis Arena in Boston.
What did they have left to prove? Either nothing, or everything all over again. Back in 2011, the group’s so-called final show sold out Madison Square Garden in 15 seconds and became the stuff of legend, documentary, and a beloved live album. Friday night (December 8) marked their first show in Boston since they’d hit The Orpheum seven years ago, and with it came the task of following it up with anything other than a sold-out victory lap.
Though they’d always been a decided dance band in a sea of guitar rock, for many, LCD Soundsystem was the flagship act of mid-aughts New York indie, the group that didn’t just drill deeper into the themes that everyone else was writing about, but ran clever commentary on the way the whole scene operated. Their breakout single, 2002’s “Losing My Edge,” lampooned subcultural pitfalls that most of their peers weren’t acknowledging: That uncoolness is inevitable, that scenesterdom can be self-defeating, and that keeping a sense of humor might be the best way to ride it all out. Frontman James Murphy’s irony wasn’t the product of dispassion, but a tactic to rough up some earnest thoughts to make them more palatable for the rock crowd.
It was that underlying sincerity, in part, that set up the band’s 2016 reunion to be so controversial. LCD Soundsystem’s reformation marked the unanticipated fulfillment of the narrative Murphy had outlined and jabbed at from the start: A bid to regain relevance and tap back into cool after having seemingly made peace with moving on. The new album, Setpember’s American Dream, was released to mostly positive critical acclaim, but didn’t earn quite the same place in long-time fans’ hearts.
As the audience filtered into Agganis on Friday, the LED screen along the top edge of the room scrolled a message from the band: “This is Boston, not L.A., so put your cameraphones away.” And, moments later, in an extremely James Murphy twist, arrived the follow-up: “If you’re still gonna ignore all this, at the very least, use landscape mode…”
The crowd was in high spirits and already dancing to the house music as the band took the stage, segueing from the end of the Donna Summer’s “I Feel Love” into the jolts of “Us V. Them”, a grandiose moment made even bigger by the massive disco ball hovering above the stage, projecting crisp beams of light through thick smoke and out into the nosebleeds. What the seven-piece band lacked in animated presence — they were relatively stationary on a stage packed with two drum kits and a battalion of synthesizers, speakers, and auxiliary percussion — they made up for with a precision that was impressive for a group of their size and production complexity.
The set consisted of a balanced mix of catalog highlights and deeper cuts, warming up the crowd with “Yr City’s a Sucker” and an ultra-danceable take on “I Can Change” before broaching the new material with “Call the Police.” Their electronic sound took on a slightly warmer tone live, and let rock guitar riffs sizzle through to energizing effect, most notably on a feedback-drenched rendition of “Movement.” Essential tracks (“Someone Great,” “You Wanted a Hit”) and additional American Dream cuts (“I Used To,” “Tonite”) felt right at home side-by-side.
Murphy made clear that he had no interest in the illusion of an encore: “We’re going to play a plethora, a myriad, a cornucopia of songs, and then we’re going to leave the stage so we can use the bathroom, and then, no matter what you say or do, we’ll come back and play some more.” Several songs later, keyboardist Nancy Whang closed out the 13-song set by leading a cover of Chic’s “I Want Your Love,” but as promised, the band reemerged to perform American Dream’s gigantic, dreamy “Oh Baby” and clamorous “Emotional Haircut” before finally rolling into their two most massive songs back to back.
The volcanic bop of “Dance Yrself Clean” invited the audience to surrender any remaining energy and let loose wherever they stood, only for it to be topped by the welcome resolution of “All My Friends,” sung in unison by what seemed to be the entire arena — a fitting send-off for a surreal evening spent with a band that wasn’t supposed to be a band anymore, on a tour that wasn’t supposed to happen, in a room surrounded by friends and strangers who were thankful that it did. Maybe the chatter surrounding LCD Soundsystem’s reunion means that they lost a bit of the edge that they once had. If Friday night’s performance was any indication, though, maybe that edge is beside the point now.
Featured image by Karen Muller; follow her on Twitter @KarenLottie.