LCD Soundsystem Signs Off

Last April, electro-alt-dance-rockers LCD Soundsystem called it a day.  James Murphy and friends decided to go out with a bang, hosting one last gig on the biggest stage in the entertainment world – NYC’s Madison Square Garden.  The show lasted almost four hours, and was filmed for a concert video that is set to debut at the Sundance festival in a few days.

This is the trailer for Shut Up And Play The Hits.

Concert recordings are a tricky proposition.  They’re difficult to produce from a technical perspective, because there’s so many variables in play.  Video (like photography) is about capturing light, but the audience is typically in the dark, making them hard to film without turning up the house lights.  Live sound in concert venues (even a venerated shed like MSG) can be finicky.  The interplay between artist and audience is impossible to contrive – if the band’s not on, the fans won’t dig it.  And on this particular night, the band was working without a net or a fall harness – you can only do one ‘last ever gig’ (unless you’re The Who).  Through the magic of technology, screw-ups are preserved forever.

Then there’s the whole issue of trying to tell a story about the band – the best documentaries seek to find a narrative that ties the whole experience together.  Otherwise the video is just a static, visual representation of what went on that night.  The stories give the gig some added depth, a greater resonance.

Based on this trailer, and James Murphy’s unique perspective on making music, this concert documentary could be wonderful.  I hope it gets a nice blu-ray public release.  I’d love to see how the band pulls off playing some of those songs live.  Daft Punk Is Playing At My House, Losing My Edge, Disco Infiltrator, Get Innocuous!, Someone Great, Sound of Silver, Dance Yrself Clean, Pow Pow – those are the ‘hits’ that I hope they shut up and play.


Music Challenge Day 25 – A Song That Makes You Laugh

This one is pretty easy.  In 2005, a British band called The Darkness released an album called One Way Ticket To Hell… And Back.  The title track is a tour de force.  It sits somewhere on the precarious ledge between the pure hard riff-rock of AC/DC and the over-the-top pop hooks and theatricality of Queen, but with modern recording accoutrements.

There are so many things about “One Way Ticket” that make me laugh.  Obviously, releasing a balls-to-the-wall rock song in 2005 was pretty hilarious.  I can just imagine walking up to the counter at the record store with The Darkness and, say, The Decemberists and Death Cab for Cutie in my hands.  The lead singer had a penchant for wearing bare-chested spandex jumpsuits in concert, a la Freddie Mercury circa 1978.  That’s not very ’emo’.  Wait, is that him singing in double-tracked falsetto?  Of course it is!  Big rock-out sitar-styled guitar solo and liberal use of flanger on the breakdown?  Mais oui.  To say nothing of the fact that the original album version of “One Way Ticket” includes a mock-dramatic intro with pan flutes and, yes, guys sniffing coke.  If you can’t laugh at (and laugh with) this song, then your sense of humour might be broken.

Honourable mention to LCD Soundsystem’s “Losing My Edge”, which was a 2002 single that later appeared on the bonus disc with their 2005 debut album.  For a music snob and semi-professional smart-ass like me, this song is like the Magna Carta.  “Losing My Edge” is an extended, ironic soliloquy wherein James Murphy tells us all about how he is the coolest, hippest, undergroundest DJ on the planet over a minimalist disco beat.  A few of my favourite lines:

I’m losing my edge to the kids whose footsteps I hear when they get on the decks.
I’m losing my edge to the Internet seekers who can tell me every member of every good group from 1962 to 1978.
I’m losing my edge to the art-school Brooklynites in little jackets and borrowed nostalgia for the unremembered eighties.
I was there when Captain Beefheart started up his first band.
I told him, “Don’t do it that way. You’ll never make a dime.”

I was the first guy playing Daft Punk to the rock kids.
I played it at CBGB’s. Everybody thought I was crazy. We all know.
I was there. I’ve never been wrong.

I hear you’re buying a synthesizer and an arpeggiator and are throwing your computer out the window because you want to make something real. You want to make a Yaz record.

I hear that you and your band have sold your guitars and bought turntables.
I hear that you and your band have sold your turntables and bought guitars.
I hear everybody that you know is more relevant than everybody that I know.

That, my friends, is 100% awesome.

Music Challenge Day 9 – A Song That You Can Dance To

The big single from Genesis’ second-worst album was “I Can’t Dance”.  It’s not a song that I’m going to defend; I guess it’s kind of catchy but it’s a gimmick that didn’t really suit the respectable smart-pop niche the band had carved out for themselves after the departure of Peter Gabriel.  But it did draw one universal truth from the zeitgeist – white boys can’t dance.

I count myself among the “can’t dance” fraternity.  I can live with that secret shame.  At least I have the quiet dignity to not display my dance suckitude to others in public places.  My dance moves make Elaine Benes look like Jennifer Lopez.  So I can’t in good faith list a song that I can dance to.  Lots of songs make me want to dance (“War” by Edwin Starr, “I Wish” by Stevie Wonder, even something newer like “Out There on the Ice” by Cut Copy).  But the wires in my cerebral cortex connecting the ‘music’ region to the ‘dancing’ region have apparently atrophied beyond all repair.

Although I can’t dance, I have found over the years that certain songs do make me walk faster out on the trails.  A lot faster.  I have vivid memories of listening to LCD Soundsystem’s “Get Innocuous!” on one of the river valley trails last summer.  I was flying.  Rubber pounded pavement, and I was blowing by people left & right.  Despite going up a 5% grade, at one point I think I passed a guy on a bike.

There’s something about the beat and metronomic rhythms of certain songs that do seem to be wired to my walking motor functions.  “Get Innocuous!” is the first track on the 2007 record Sound of Silver.  The whole album is brilliant; it’s like Kraftwerk for the 21st century, infused with a tongue-in-cheek alt-rock manifesto.

Pretty much the entire LCD Soundsystem canon is great for walking.  When it isn’t pee-inducingly ironic and funny, it’s often crushingly heartfelt and human.

Epilogue: the worst Genesis album, by a mile, is Calling All Stations.  To this day, I still want Mike Rutherford and Tony Banks to give me my fifteen bucks back.