Independent Clauses | n. —unusual words about underappreciated music

James Murphy never lost his edge

August 1, 2011

We all knew it would come to this someday. If a guy starts out his band by announcing, “I’m losing my edge,” there must come a point where he feels he’s lost it. If he’s smart, he feels the final slide before everyone else and gets out early. James Murphy is a very smart man.

I mean, how many people go out by playing a show throwing a party in Madison Square Garden? No one does that. I couldn’t steel myself to quit while the number of people necessary to fill MSG still cared deeply about my band. People flew in from other continents to see this spectacle, because James Murphy is an incredibly brilliant musician.

And if that musicianship isn’t necessarily the point of the Madison Square Garden show, it’s at least on display by proxy. Other than an adrenaline-spiking drum solo in the amazing version of “Yeah,”  Murphy’s contribution to the music during the show consists of vocals* – except that he wrote or arranged everything in the nearly three-hour set.

Even that seems ambiguous to me. How much does a gajillion-piece band contribute to a sound? How much do they bring to the table? How does the indie-rockin’ “Daft Punk is Playing at My House” turn into the dance-punk fiesta that it was at that show? I know The London Sessions significantly transformed it, but this is something else again. I never saw James Murphy live, so I’ll never know how the transition happened – because not enough people in Oklahoma like LCD Soundsystem for the band to have ever stepped foot in this state.

Transformation aside, the songs here are transcendent. These songs are the epitome of a band on top of its game: from “Home” to “Someone Great” to “Dance Yrself Clean” to even “45:33,” every era of LCD sounds more vital than it ever has. I would say the band was killing it, but they’re not: they’re bringing life to all of it. “Tribulations” appropriates the most timeless elements of the early 2000s dance-rock movement (catchy bass lines, perky drumming, squelching synths) and discards the pretension and mock aggression for a sober look at a relationship and a nation. How do you do that, James Murphy?

But if you’re a LCD fan, you already know the brilliance of his lyrics and songwriting; you’d like to know about this time, this way, this show. And rightfully so. If you haven’t heard LCD yet, here’s a recommendation: this was one of the best dance bands that ever existed. And I’m not saying that ’cause they’re gone. I was saying that while they were happening. I was there.

(Somewhere, Murphy is laughing that all we can say about his band now is what he already said about his band. There’s another clear indicator that he was the cleverest songwriter of our generation – and I am obsessed with The Mountain Goats.)

So, this time, this way, this show: the band sounds laser-guided. The bootleg is of astonishingly good quality, which could be a tribute to the taper (Pitchfork, in some way or fashion), the massive MSG sound system or both. Murphy doesn’t lose an ounce of energy or voice quality in 25+ songs (depending on how you count the massive “45:33”). This sounds like a band doing a victory lap on a huge tour, not a final gig. Just check the swagger of “Us vs. Them,” which was not really there in the original recording, or that of “All My Friends,” which is once again a revelation. And that’s because Murphy is victory lappin’. Right off into the sunset of performing.

Because no matter how much the band makes the Madison Square Garden show just rip, the last LCD Soundsystem gig will always be about Murphy. He does all the talking and almost all the freaking out, except when Arcade Fire gets in on “North American Scum,” and when the band sings magnificently on the high point of “Losing My Edge.”

And that’s the moment: as the band members sing “LA!!” at the top of their lungs, Murphy starts the signature move of screaming out band names. At first, you can’t even really hear him due to the volume of the “background” singers. The kids are coming up from behind, indeed.

The crazy thing about this show is that it does an end-run on mortality: we are always losing our edge. We are always rushing toward our end. We have our bright, shining moments, and then our edge is dulled until we are gone. Murphy is severing the fall; before he can dull, he disappears. That’s what is being documented here. There will never be a regrettable LCD Soundsystem cash grab release, as others have noted. That’s an incredible legacy to leave on a musical front.

But the legacy to leave on a lyrical front is an even more lasting and impressive one. Not only did James Murphy observe culture well, he observed himself well. He knew when the gig was up. He invested what we thought was everything in LCD Soundsystem. But he apparently didn’t; LCD is gone, and Murphy’s still kicking. There was something else that drove him, something deeper than LCD that made LCD tick. Perhaps is just purely a love of music. (Given his decision to keep DJing and rumors of him producing records, this is a fair guess.) Perhaps it’s something else.

But I know that as I head toward my mid-twenties, the concept of “Losing My Edge” will dawn on me. And I’ll have to deal with it. Maybe not for xx more years at that point, but I’ll have to start thinking. I pray that I’ll keep a firm grasp on that which grounds me outside of music. Because we are all losing our edge, and we need to deal with it. We can’t stay sharp forever, but James Murphy quit trying to be sharp while he is known for it. There’s proof of it now; when mortality comes for him, no one will be able to knock how sharp his edge was.

*and I think cowbell, but I wasn’t there, so I can’t see who’s doing it; and there’s no way I’m torturing myself with video of this event.

Stephen Carradini and friends write reviews of bands that are trying to make the next step in their careers.

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