There comes a time when every punk, rudeboy, emo, mod, metal-head, and hipster must ask themselves how much longer they can keep getting away with it. Beyond the physical indignities of moshing, crowd-surfing, and staying up late as a middle aged man lies the social stigma of still dressing like a teenager at 41. Presumably when James Murphy—frontman and mastermind of LCD Soundsystem—bent down one day to tie the shoe-laces on his Converse and automatically thought, “What else can I do while I’m down here?” he realized his time had come.
Murphy’s career has always been marked by intelligence and self-awareness, and so his decision to end on a high note comes as no surprise. After a decade-long run comprised of three critically acclaimed and bestselling LPs, the band has scheduled a week of break-up concerts at Terminal 5 in New York, culminating in a concert on April 2 at Madison Square Garden. However, the sustained quality control of the band’s output is something of a surprise—of the groups credited at the beginning of the decade with resuscitating New York’s then-ailing rock scene, LCD Soundsystem would have been an unlikely candidate for graceful aging.
Murphy’s best songs have always been about the relationship between his music and his advancing age. The band’s first big hit, “Losing My Edge,” was a washed-up hipster’s lament about losing his relevance to a younger generation. Even as he became successful, Murphy was anticipating his eventual decline. LCD’s back catalogue now resembles a giant, self-fulfilling prophecy that predicted the band’s obsolescence even when they began to make it big. Ironically, the band has never been as popular as they are now, and this popularity is best evidenced by the fervent faces of the young, skinny-tie wearing hipsters and the middle-aged, skinny-tie wearing hipsters that I joined last Wednesday night.
The band fed off a tidal wave of good feeling for a spectacular three-and-a-half hours of music drawn from their entire catalogue, even remaining on stage at the end to wave and blow kisses to the audience as if the band members couldn’t bear to confront the outside world. Genuine emotion was etched on Murphy’s features, in particular during the highlight of the night, a stunning rendition of “All My Friends,” arguably the band’s biggest hit. Propelled by a single piano riff for eight minutes, the song gained an overwhelming pathos and momentum as Murphy sung about the struggle between youthful hedonism and the aging process.
LCD Soundsystem’s live concerts reveal the exact nature of their influences with far more precision than their recordings. They’ve never been shy about citing their favorite groups—the last two minutes of “Losing My Edge” is simply a list of Murphy’s favorite records—but in concert the post-punk aesthetic becomes more prominent. Their debt to the Talking Heads and New Order is well-documented, but onstage the band often recalled the jagged rhythms of Joy Division, Public Image Ltd., and The Fall, while several songs such as “Movement” and “Yeah” exploded gloriously into feedback and white noise reminiscent of the best, old shoegaze acts.
Around the middle of the set, the concert seemed slightly self-indulgent as the band—joined by a complete jazz band and backing chorus—played a gigantic 45 minute nonstop medley of “45:33” and “Sound Of Silver,” but the crowd didn’t mind in the slightest, carrying their uncontainable energy from opener “Dance Yrself Clean” to closer “New York, I Love You But You’re Bringing Me Down.” There was a sense of the epic—of the once-in-a-lifetime—permeating the whole night.
Murphy couldn’t however, do anything about the bittersweet tinge pervading the humid concert-hall air. He never directly alluded to the fact that the concert marked the end of the band; instead he let his music do the talking. There was defiance—on “All My Friends” he sings “I wouldn’t trade one stupid decision / For another five years of life”—but also acceptance and recognition, as he sung gorgeously on “All I Want:” “Take me home / Take me home.” It is this note of acceptance on which the concert finished. LCD Soundsystem bow out on a glorious high, but knowing all along that rock music is a young man’s game and that, painful as it is, they are young men no longer.