“Where are your friends tonight?”
In truth, I was only there to see The Zutons. Nath, my then-flatmate at 6 Cyril Mansions, had bought their debut, and we listened to it constantly in the winter of 2004-05. Free-wheelingly anarchic ("Aaargh! PRESSURE PRESSURE PRESSURE!") - and possessed of absurd Liverpudlian lyricism (see above) like a lower-rent Coral or a shit Las, we both had a burning desire to see them live.
On the evening of 30 April 2005 I found myself at Carling Brixton Academy (as it was then known) largely on a whim - but also as part of a general re-acquaintance with contemporary music after a number of years listening exclusively and obsessively to Sixties folk-rock, ambient electronica and jazz from the Columbia or Blue Note stables.
Either Nath wasn't available or I sacked him off and went on my own, I'm still not sure. Flying solo, while a little tiresome, meant I could stand where I wanted, leave when I wanted and wouldn’t risk losing anyone. One lone gig-goer in the cavernous stalls. Surrounded by people who, unlike me, didn’t have to skin their heads to hide the balding bits. (They could grow theirs out.) Thirty quid in my wallet: £20 for the ticket tout, a tenner for a couple of beers – and a single pill purchased during a drunken trip to Fabric nightclub a week previous.
By the mid-2000s, LCD Soundsystem’s generation-defining, dance-inflected punk-rock aimed a mirror at the drugged, dolorous and disaffected emotional rectitude of young westerners in the post-9/11 epoch. Seeded in the hipster Hipster enclaves of New York City and globally germinated, their music embodied the retro-nostalgia of contemporary culture, capturing the modes and mores of empathic metamodernity, conjuring the precarious lives and love affairs of millions of real and imagined Millennials: James Murphy's lyrics vacillated between "modern enthusiasm and a postmodern irony, between hope and melancholy, between naivety and knowingness, empathy and apathy, unity and plurality, totality and fragmentation, purity and ambiguity". Effectively providing an intertext to the films of Noah Baumbach and Miranda July, Lena Dunham’s Girls and the literature of Jennifer Egan and Dave Eggers, LCD Soundsystem – as with the post-club comedown confessional of ‘All Of My Friends’ – offered oblique anthems to those for whom anthems are (so) passé.
Now a bit of grossly oversimplified and possibly inaccurate context: prior to LCD Soundsystem's emergence, entitled American scuzz-merchants The Strokes had spearheaded rock’s grungy response to the interminable era of the Superstar DJ. Replete with skinny jeans and scuffed Converse hi-tops, indie was back in The Business. Less of an insurrection, more of a resurrection – or negatory reaction to the blissed out trance of the early Noughties – The Strokes emerged with the itching and scratching fervour of recent converts to 1970s punk and New Wave. In their wake, a raft of new guitar heroes: Kings of Leon channelled Creedence, Nevada's The Killers slayed all comers with their unholy marriage of Oasis and Duran Duran, and Glasgow's Franz Ferdinand penned postpunk ‘music for girls to dance to’.
LCD were the antithesis of their slick hype. One sensed a greater degree of ambivalence about their product chiefly because they were possessed of a greater degree of talent. Their very inauthenticity made them authentic. Like The Happy Mondays and New Order two decades earlier, LCD Soundsystem openly embraced E culture, recording music which respectfully genuflected to a decade of euphoric hugs, sweaty dancefloors and amyl-infused raves.
Like The Strokes, Franz et al, the band referenced the sharpest, slickest outfits of the postpunk era - Blondie, Talking Heads, Television, Modern Lovers, Liquid Liquid, ESG – while introducing to the world DFA stablemates Hot Chip, The Rapture, The Juan Maclean, Factory Floor, Shit Robot and Prinzhorn Dance School, and paving the way for the Nu-Rave outfits (Klaxons, Shitdisco, CSS, Friendly Fires) to follow. As landfill indie limped on, LCD Soundsystem emerged as exemplar par excellence: this is what contemporary rock has to sound like sound like in the newly-sincere, narcotised era. Music for girls to gurn to. Even Murphy's vocal inflection suggested his nose was blocked with some substance or another.
A confession: I had nil familiarity with Murphy’s band before the gig; nor with the Belgian dance-punkers Soulwax, who also provided incongruous support to the supposedly-headlining Zutons. Both outfits scarcely warranted mention in the advance publicity, or even the post-event reports, despite playing excellent sets. They made the landfill indie of Carling Live 24 look infinitely inferior by comparison. Beginning at 7am with a set by The Departure (remember them?) at Camden’s Barfly, it was followed by a cornucopia of acts which included Kaiser Chiefs, Baby Shambles, The Rakes, Embrace, The Subways, Editors, The Paddingtons and the interminable 10,000 Things. A who’s-who of fair-to-middling chart-bothering acts for whom the term ‘landfill indie’ endlessly tolls.
“I WAS THERE!”
There was a particularly chemical ambience to the gig; hardly surprising given the requirement, nay demand, that certain substances be utilised to get the party started – or to keep it going. I dropped my E at the close of Soulwax’s pulverising set of sharp dance-metal, and began to feel nicely discombobulated by the time The Zutons came on stage. The gig evolved into attenuated hyperreality shortly after.
The pharmaceutical nature of proceedings was underlined when The Zutons’ singer announced that he’d done “a couple of lines” backstage, perhaps to show off, or perhaps as a slightly naïve means of affecting affinity with the crowd, any number of whom had been ‘up’ since 7am.
By the time Murphy and cohort took to the stage, Brixton Academy had voided itself of all but a handful of true believers, too-drunk-to-go-homers, chizzed-up trendies and pilled-up isolates like myself, leaving a small crowd of about 200 people. Midway through the LCD set, I stumbled into the toilets for a whizz to find myself face-to-face with a jumpy guy who had some illicit powder plastered across his upper lip: cocaine, speed or ketamine (or one of the latter masquerading as the former).
Stood directly under the lip of the stage afforded a superlative first-hand opportunity to commune with the band’s proggy post-discopunk. Plus the MDMA was working its magic by this stage.
Pat Mahoney rattling his hit-hats, Nancy Whang diminutive behind her keyboard, Tyler Pope diligently pumping his bass. Murphy, like Yogi Bear in a shirt, declaiming into his retro mic the insouciant-yet-sleazy incitements of ‘Yeah’; the narcotic slouch of ‘Tribulations’; the exhuberant yelps of ‘Daft Punk is Playing in my House’; the musical-irrelevance-as-mid-life-crisis of ‘I’m Losing My Edge’. Surveying the threadbare gathering, he drily observed, “This is the perfect audience size, I don’t want it to ever get any bigger than this”.
Just what is it that makes a good band great? Makes them transition from competent entertainers to God-given geniuses? Is it hype, talent, or the willingness of cultural epoch – the zeitgeist – to assimilate, critically laud and mourn in passing?
Just a few years after the rapturous reception to their farewell gig at Madison Square Gardens, Murphy has reassembled the band for a highly lucrative tour deal with AEG, featuring a headline slot at Coachella. Far from freeing up time to work on other projects – soundtracking Baumbach, producing Arcade Fire, manufacturing his own espresso blend, sorting out the turnstyle bleeps on New York’s Subway – Murphy has gone back to what he knows, and, moreover, to where the money is. As DIY has it, “bigger stages, bigger festivals, bigger crowds all await returning heroes”, in addition to “bigger paychecks”. A new album will follow. Just five years after calling time on the band, the moment is right to begin the Nostalgia Tour. Just five years to begin mining the barely-remembered Noughties. Social media – that great barometer of needless opprobrium – has been divided between open-mouthed delight and sneering cynicism.
A number of years after the Brixton gig I saw the band at one of the most disappointing, piss-poorly organised concerts I’ve ever been to: a double-header with Hot Chip at Alexandra Palace in 2011, where the ludicrous queue to gain entry meant I missed half the Hot Chip set, while the ludicrous queues for the bar meant I missed half the LCD Soundsystem set.
The management issued a statement and offered complainants – including myself – a free double CD of the gig. On the night, Murphy announced he was taking steroids for a failing voice, and listening to the album now, it shows: they’re lumpy, turgid, a little listless. Punk-disco by numbers. Maybe it’s the E talking, but they sounded a lot better six years earlier.
And there’s the rub: all too often the forgettable gig almost mars the memory of the unforgettable, all-but-forgotten blissed-out one. Let’s hope LCD Soundsystem wow Coachella: there may be a few disgruntled farewell gig ticket holders to convince in the crowd. But if anyone can do it, they can. (With Soulwax in support.)