Tag Archives: concert

Shut Up And Play The Hits

I was going to suggest I write about Shut Up And Play The Hits, the documentary chronicling LCD Soundsystem‘s final days of existence, from a dispassionate perspective. Then, I realised that was an impossible task. Then, I realised that was a pointless exercise. I don’t know what it would be like to watch this film without even a shred of knowledge about this band, and its big greying human centre James Murphy, and I don’t want to know. You might be able to appreciate it for its cinematography, borne of several celebrated visual artists; you might admire the way it cuts between thrilling in-concert footage and a snarky, nasal interview between Murphy and the critic Chuck Klosterman. But you couldn’t feel the darling buds of tears form in your mind’s eye. At least, I doubt it. In any case, no-one deserves to not have LCD Soundsystem in their lives. If you learn of this film but know nothing about the band behind it, for goodness sake make amends.

Typically, in this age, films about bands and musicians are vanity projects or cash-cows. Shut Up… is not such a film. Its directors, Dylan Southern and Will Lovelace, came to Murphy with an idea and, together, they developed that idea into a better one.

So we get an incredibly human character-study of Murphy, the morning after the night before, trimming his inimitable beard and cleaning out his coffee machine. These subtly deflate the viewer’s perception of him: just as Murphy worshipped David Bowie as an alien from Mars who couldn’t possibly wake up with a pain in his foot, so do fans of LCD Soundsystem believe their hero to be superhuman in his accomplishments and traits.

And in lockstep with this touching portrait come exhilarating chunks of performance from their last ever concert, at New York City’s Madison Square Garden. The songs they play have never sounded better: they have the punkish energy fans loved, but are mixed retrospectively by Murphy, also a distinguished recording engineer, himself. The camera flits between overhead shots of fans partying like they know it’s the last time—one repeated, lingering close-up of a teenager, bawling his eyes out, elicited laughter from the audience—and extended shots of members of the extended live band, fiddling with synthesizers and scraping the guts of electric guitars. Pat Mahoney’s drumming, always metronomic, always spirited, is not foregrounded but plays a crucial role from the sidelines, keeping everyone else from freaking out and imploding. At certain moments, the visuals are so sympathetic to the lyrical content of Murphy’s songs, you realise what an obvious candidate for a film his band is. The clearest example is during “All My Friends”: when Murphy asks, “Where are your friends tonight?”, the camera responds by shifting its gaze from the stage to the adoring crowd, one seething mass of togetherness.

If you thought LCD Soundsystem were all about partying, you haven’t spent much time studying James Murphy. A self-confessed failure till he was thirty, he struggled through suburbia, punk bands, lucrative DJ sets, always yearning to step out from the shadows and do something memorable in his own right. The original incarnation of LCD Soundsystem took the form of “Losing My Edge”, a painfully tragic account of younger people being painfully hip. Soon after, Murphy assembled a band of friends to play his music at parties—the best LCD Soundsystem covers band, if you will.

His is a band that never set out to start somewhere, but which wrapped up in concrete the place they would end. In one of the more bearable fragments of the Chuck Klosterman interview, Murphy is pressed to suggest what will be remembered as his band’s defining failure. After a few false starts, he delivers his answer: ending the band—maybe. Murphy feared his own justification for drawing the curtains on LCD Soundsystem would objectively be deemed inadequate. After all, he had previously said a purpose of the band was to show young people how live music could still excite, and here he was, in 2011, still showing those upstarts who was boss. In making young listeners bow down to him, Murphy failed to inspire them to ape his own act. In this context, retirement might be seen as failing to take the greatest risks imaginable.

“I was 38 and I decided to make another record. I blinked, and I was 41…if I blink again, I’ll be 50.”

I wish I could remember more of the clever things Murphy says, whether to friends on the phone, or to Klosterman, sat in an Italian restaurant. Maybe this is Klosterman’s fault: he is the kind of pretentious critic who asks questions and then, as if grabbing the microphone from his interviewee, proceeds to answer them himself. This might make for good written interviews, but it makes for pretty aggravating cinema. However, I recognise that, on occasion, Klosterman’s questions prompt Murphy to make a perceptive, insightful remark that perfectly ushers in the next segment of the film. For example, near the end, Murphy says he  likes songs “that come from a particular place”—an ideal introduction to the haunting “Someone Great”, which ends with…no, I won’t spoil it.

Another theme close to Murphy’s heart which gets a fair airing during the film is that of family. We see Murphy addressing his brother, sister and nephews from on stage. We see him greet musical acolytes (Arcade Fire join the band to sing backing vocals on “North American Scum”; the comedian and a cappella musician Reggie Watts skits through “45:33 (II)”) like soulmates. During the many songs which are shown almost in entirety, there is much embracing and unity. It’s another sign Lovelace and Southern, who also made No Distance Left To Run, the film about Blur’s fleeting rebirth, have done their homework. In conception, the film’s strands seem irreconcilable—shoehorning a four-hour concert into a documentary about the end of a band. In execution, the way the film pulls back from the humdrum and then lurches us in media res works well.

Prior to watching Shut Up…, the only comparable film I had seen was Jonathan Demme’s Stop Making Sense, which follows Talking Heads at their peak over a three-night residency of the Pantages Theater in Los Angeles. There are numerous similarities, from the chiaroscuro shots of the bands’ frontmen, to the obsessive highlighting of complementary percussion and amp- and keyboard-fiddling. And, of course, Talking Heads are one of the clear antecedents to LCD Soundsystem.

But Shut Up… is its own kind of film, with its nonlinear narrative (the film starts amidst a sheet of gravelly white noise, which, any dedicated fan will know, is the ‘musical’ cover for the transition between two closing-stages songs, “Yeah” and “Someone Great”) and emphasis on the pedestrian parts of so-called rock stars’ lives (making coffee, taking the dog Petunia for walks). The best way of describing it is to say it is a very LCD Soundsystem film, so in keeping with the spirit of the band and the artist that, as I suggested earlier, watching it without having heard any of their music is pointless and indefensible. The fact the music in it is so impeccably mixed and really benefits from being blasted out of a cinema is significant, if only because you will want to get out of your seat and dance.


Shut Up And Play The Hits, by Dylan Southern and Will Lovelace, is produced by Pulse Films and distributed by Oscilloscope Laboratories, and will be released in the summer of 2012.

Picture credits: Dylan Southern and Will Lovelace.

L’Empire des fauves

Wild Beasts — Shepherd’s Bush Empire — 23rd November 2011

Can you tell a lot about a band from the fans who show up at their concerts? For a Northern quartet who recently upped sticks for Trendsville, Dalston, and whose stock is on the up even as they trade in lithe funk for pastoral art rock, Wild Beasts‘ assembled crowd pretty much fits the bill. Young, well-dressed professionals interspersed with the occasional gaggle of lairy, not-quite-scary freshers. Yours truly, straight from the office of a third-sector organisation; two pints swiftly imbibed during the forgettable opening  set from Braids. Snuggling couples lingering behind the bar, all-too aware of the lush romanticism at the heart of Wild Beasts’ recent offerings.

The band begin on an uncharacteristically sprightly note, all thought of Kate Bush and Talk Talk shoved temporarily to one side for the jaunty, swooping “Bed of Nails”. “O! Ophelia! I feel yer fall,” moan the sparring frontmen Hayden Thorpe and Tom Fleming—the Hamlet reference surely isn’t lost on such a hyper-literate crowd. The former deals in a seductive falsetto (halfway between Antony Hegarty and Kate Bush) while the latter shows off his bluff, Northern baritone (like a more sultry Guy Garvey). Against such distinctive vocalists whirr shadowy keys and delicately textured guitar-work. And, always, Chris Talbot’s intricate, polyrhythmic sticksmanship, colouring in the gaps with deft bongo fills.

From there, the set takes a more sensual turn, with a decent mix of new and older materials. The high drama of “We Still Got The Taste Dancin’ On Our Tongues” is followed by the sparse, sub-bass-heavy “Albatross”, for which the frontmen face each other across hefty banks of keyboards, like lovers squaring up for a fight. Respite from the relentlessly pattering rhythms comes courtesy of the post-rock suite “Two Dancers”, its two constituent parts reversed in order and shuffled around. We’re also treated to the otherworldly “Loop The Loop” and the gentle, wafting “Deeper” (both from the recent album Smother), with its muted plucking and pinging synths. Even here, they can’t resist their love of earthier stuff, with cavernous bass tones lurking around the song’s middle section.

When the band gets round to playing the hits from their previous album, Two Dancers, the crowd raise their game. In a live setting, you kinda forget the gritty homoeroticism of “Hooting And Howling” and “All The King’s Men”, and end up bouncing along innocently enough to this scrunchy, steely brand of pop.

Then, in the encore, they plumb new depths, with every ounce of disco-noire potential extracted from “Lion’s Share” and distilled into a heady, intoxicating concoction. The bottomless bass pulses combine exquisitely with Thorpe’s plaintive piano and the additional thump of touring helper Katie Harkin on floor tom. As a final hurrah, we get the epic “End Come Too Soon”, that paen to all things premature, whose rousing first section soon tumbles into a rising fog of quasi-ambient noise, simultaneously recalling Oneohtrix Point Never and My Bloody Valentine. As this wall of sound approaches the unbearable, the band return to the stage, bringing back the original melody for a colossal and richly-deserved finale.

There is nothing earth-shattering about this performance; nothing to place it in my pantheon of live music. But it is a glorious display of a group at what seems like the peak of their prowess. On the basis of it, I hope their artistry continues to grow—even more bass! even more ambience!—pari passu with their popular appeal. There’s something extremely wholesome to finding unpretentious lads making pretentious-in-a-good way music, imbued with emotive storytelling and a very particular aesthetic. Do catch them before they end up in a concrete corporate arena-cum-shed.

The right forum for Battles

Battles — Kentish Town Forum — 21st November 2011

All good live music contains within it an element of remixing: if it didn’t, I may as well have stayed at home and listened to the album on a pair of good headphones. The art of performance requires a degree of spontaneity; however, the more complex the music, the harder it is to survive without some grid to which to adhere. And so it is that Battles, reduced to a trio, not only persevere with their most multi-faceted compositions but actually carve them into something altered, goofy yet utterly compelling. Continue reading The right forum for Battles

DFA at 10

Newsflash: I write too much about DFA Records. Geeky fact: my iPod is engraved with “The DFA” on its back. All context aside, however, it’s really great that the label set up by Messrs. Murphy and Goldsworthy in 2001 has hit such a milestone, and I helped ring in the years on Tuesday night when I attended a little party-cum-gig at the cosy 100 Club on London’s Oxford Street.

Given that the last gig I went to was Flying Lotus at the Roundhouse two weeks prior, this was a radically stripped-down affair. Three tight bands; no fluff, no guff; adoring fans standing not farther than five metres from the stage. First up were the comically stark Prinzhorn Dance School, back after something of an extended spell making their second album. Deadpan to the extreme, the lyrics about small-town gruesomeness were set against abrasive, Gang Of Four-style post punk. Martial drums from a ponytailed extra left plenty of air in the mix for Tobin Prinz’s caustic fretwork and Suzi Horn’s bottomless bass-lines. The new songs sounded slightly more heartfelt, rather like the closing track on their debut album, “Spaceman In Your Garden”, but there was something so primal in the yelping of older cuts like “Up! Up! Up!” and “Crackerjack Docker”.

Next came Y△CHT (ultra-stylized, as ever), with the core duo of Jona Bechtolt and Claire L. Evans still expanded to take in the backing band who are, I think, still called The Straight Gaze. Evans was striking in a space-age ecru dress, writhing and gesticulating all across the stage and floor. Behind her, the feel-good white boy funk proved mildly intoxicating, recalling the Tom Tom Club. Plinky-plonk keys and socially awkward beats were very much the order of the day; moderately amusing PowerPoint graphics projected onto a rickety screen provided further entertainment. The band were good enough to stop for a Q&A halfway through (unrequited) but more of the crowd took them up on their offer after their set.

Lead billing was given to The Rapture, whose breakthrough album Echoes was literally the coolest thing I’d ever heard when I finally got round to buying it in 2007. Back when they were a foursome, they did for dance-friendly music what The Strokes did for rock ‘n’ roll. Now reduced to a trio, they’re still a raucous live act. Luke Jenner and Vito Roccoforte look a bit more padded round the edges nowadays, but they still whip up a sonic storm between the drumkit and the ubiquitous red Telecaster; meanwhile, multi-instrumentalist Gabriel Andruzzi looks like he hasn’t aged a day since 2003, and flits between keys, saxophone and cowbell. Opening with a salvo of newer songs, the band still felt relevant and history-making, but the real fun began when a pummelling 808 beat kicked in, marking the unmistakeable “Olio”, the Echoes opener which incredibly crossed the divide between punk and acid house. The crowd went nuts, and rightly so. From there, the set took a darkier, clubbier vibe, with standout new track “Come Back To Me” emerging from a foggy accordion sample into a wildly filtered beat, and the anthemic “House Of Jealous Lovers” transforming the floor into a joyous riot.

There was a short encore, embraced by the nostalgic crowd in spite of its lack of retrospection. Their comeback single, “How Deep Is Your Love” was given a triumphant airing, with its house piano chords tapping into the soul of the venue, before the band closed shop with “Sail Away”, another victory march.

What a brilliantly low-key way of celebrating the tenth anniversary of a record label who truly changed the way we think about music to dance to.

You can find some photographs which do justice to the sheer emotion of welcoming back The Rapture over at This Is Fake DIY.

Explosions in the Sky — Camden Roundhouse (19/05/11)

Post-rock is a funny old nebula, and one that brought about some typically wise words from Simon Reynolds.

“[U]sing rock instrumentation for non-rock purposes, using guitars as facilitators of timbre and textures rather than riffs and power chords.”

Reynolds also saw a logical conclusion to post rock: so-called “cyborg rock”, which constituted “some kind of interface between real time, hands-on playing and the use of digital effects and enhancement.” Battles, then.

Bearing all that in mind, it’s surprising that Explosions In The Sky (EITS) have lasted as long as they have. The Texan four-piece, have spent more than a decade carving out a ‘trad’ crevice for themselves within the post-rock nebula, mining the same territory, with the same instrumentation, in search of the same payoffs, even as their contemporaries parted for distant shores. Mogwai tentatively embraced the robotic; Sigur Rós, who used to write symphonies for glaciers, started writing anthems for humans instead. And all the while, EITS kept soundtracking the death and rebirth of the universe. It took until album number six for them to knowingly embrace this fact, naming the opening song “The Birth and Death of the Day”, but I think I had them figured well before then.

None of this is to say that I hold anything against EITS. True, their albums bear undeniable similarities to each other, and the band do little to deny or hide them. But each has its own charm; a subtle variation that helps differentiate it from its neighbours; and, always, original motifs that plant themselves in the mind.

Because there are no lyrics to the songs of EITS, the listener’s reaction is totally subjective—an innocuous passage can cause some to recoil in paranoia, while others might treat it as a lull before the Sturm und Drang. Arguably, you can attach whichever emotions you like to their music. Me? I’m a sucker for apocalyptic drama (supporting evidence: the dialogue in “Have You Passed Through This Night?”, cribbed from Terrence Malick’s The Thin Red Line), hence why I’ve typically failed to spot the undercurrent of euphoria supposedly present. Rebirth, in music, is not an occurrence heralding joy, but instead marks the comprehension of the universe’s cyclical nature. Such a response also meant I remained immune to the gentle resolution at the close of “With Tired Eyes, Tired Minds, Tired Souls, We Slept”.

My response to their live show, which hit the Camden Roundhouse on Thursday night, was thankfully, in aggregate, positive. During their set, which was, as is their custom, devoid of an encore, I was unsure of how to react. There are no singalong moments, and yet the crowd (myself included) seemed to be psyching themselves for particular moments of release, which were typically accompanied by an onslaught of distortion from the guitars of Munaf Rayani, Mark Smith and Michael James.

Even when the overdrive was at its most ferocious, the music’s innate melodicism shone through, as in the more pummelling passages of “Yasmin The Light” and “Catastrophe and the Cure”. At these moments, however, I felt a certain disconnect from the band. With their heads bowed to the fretboards, and Rayani’s mop of hair obscuring any facial expressions, I didn’t know where to look. They seemed so wrapped up in their own private world, and it was hard to find the door that led to it.

In their more gentle songs—”Your Hand in Mine”, “Postcard from 1952″—I came to understand the selflessness of the music, which had remained hidden from my ears on record. The crowd basked in rays of contentment and epiphany, as golden chords rang out, and instrumental curlicues wove in and out of the main structures of the songs.

A Texan flag still draped over one of their amplifiers, the band closed with “Greet Death”, which is the opening track to what I regard as their finest work, Those Who Tell the Truth Shall Die, Those Who Tell the Truth Shall Live Forever. This is an extraordinary composition, which emerges from a mist of indistinct notes, suddenly exploding into a monolithic wall of sound. There is a false end, which leads into a sparse passage of unsettling beauty, but this too billows into a more broadly painted final section, wherein those heavenward guitars refract and fragment into a million shards. On record, this is an unforgettable moment; performed live, it felt like they had blown off the roof of the venue.

Upon leaving the Roundhouse, I told my companions that I felt like I had been immersed in a tidal wave, but protected from the true force of the water by a kind of transparent sphere. I had wanted to be toppled over; to be dismantled and then reconstructed by the music; instead, I felt as if I had been receiving the show through a particularly strong pair of antennæ, in a format that needed some intermediary decoding. It was not a total success—perhaps I need to witness My Bloody Valentine on stage to get the effect (and aural damage) I seek. But I enjoyed Explosions In The Sky nonetheless, and seeing them on stage at last satisfied a five-year itch of mine.

Explosions In The Sky played:

  1. Last Known Surroundings
  2. Yasmin The Light
  3. Postcard from 1952
  4. Catastrophe and the Cure
  5. The Only Moment We Were Alone
  6. Your Hand in Mine
  7. The Birth and Death of a Day
  8. Let Me Back In
  9. Greet Death
PS Anne Maningas over at 3.1 has taken some gorgeous photographs of the concert on her Hasselblad.
[Photo: flickr user turgidson]

From the archive: Sigur Rós — Westminster Methodist Central Hall (24/06/08)

A long time ago, on a previous blog, I wrote about going to see Sigur Rós in concert, in a unique venue. Looking back on it now, I reckon it’s due a re-heat in the microwave of the blogosphere…

Sigur Rós
Sigur Rós at Westminster Methodist Central Hall — Flickr user gideonb

Concerts coinciding with album releases are often filled with a special kind of buzzing atmosphere: for the band, there is a desire to please an obviously devoted crowd with some highlights from a stunning back-catalogue whilst also giving an airing to some new songs; for the audience, it’s always a thrill to see a band who have just spent most a year cooped up in a variety of studios, suddenly unleashing their magic once again, on the road. For Sigur Rós yesterday night, this special atmosphere was intensified by a beautifully intimate venue –Westminster Methodist Central Hall – where even those seated at the back of the balcony could be treated to a close encounter with one of the most emotionally raw and unadulterated bands touring today. With Radiohead performing on the other side of London in the detached environment of Victoria Park, it was clear that here in Westminster, we could be in for an evening’s entertainment that was alternately charming, exhilarating, deafening and heart-wrenching. Continue reading From the archive: Sigur Rós — Westminster Methodist Central Hall (24/06/08)

LCD Soundsystem – The Long Goodbye

UPDATE TO UPDATE: The recording of the concert mentioned below wove its way into the film Shut Up And Play The Hits, which I wrote about here.

UPDATE: According to this Facebook exchange, LCD Soundsystem have confirmed that a DVD release of the concert recording is on its way, once they have “mix[ed] the music” and “edit[ed] between all the cameras”. Great news!

So, as I was saying earlier, like a sleep-deprived fanboy, I spent the night of 2nd April sitting on the edge of my bed, watching Pitchfork’s live-stream of the final act in the LCD Soundsystem saga: a near-four-hour long concert at New York’s Madison Square Garden.

Were it not for my comparatively sane flatmates, fast asleep, I probably would have been singing along at the top of my lungs—as it was, I was mouthing the lyrics under my breath most of the way through. I was giddy with excitement, and James Murphy did his best to assuage my distress at the realisation that, after tonight, his band would be no more. Finis.

LCD Soundsystem existed as both the archetype and the antidote to hipster culture. Murphy made no attempt to disguise his influences, many of whom are quoted liberally throughout the band’s œuvre—from the Iggy Pop cut-and-paste of “Somebody’s Calling Me”, to the deranged Fall-like madness of “Movement” and “Tired”. But throughout, it was a loving homage, not a pastiche. Murphy’s honesty set his music apart from the emptiness and façade-building of so much of the music which followed him.

The music of LCD Soundsystem was, in a word, generous. It welcomed you into its arms, even as it pointed out the tragic flaws at the heart of us all. On “I Can Change”, Murphy is unrepentantly a flawed romantic, putting himself down, putting others down, putting down the whole concept of a relationship. Through the simple channelling of his synth-pop heroes, the song is a triumph: you want to shed a tear alongside him, as well as for him. On “Yr City’s A Sucker”, a rambling 2004 B-side, he’s at once hyping up and deflating his adopted hometown, while a creepy/cheery synth line winds through a jumble of percussion and rock-solid bass. The effect is mesmerising; we await some kind of payoff which, when it arrives, not just embraces you, but practically swallows you up like an expanding star.

LCD Soundsystem
James Murphy – Flickr user Loren Wohl

The Long Goodbye, which was a wholly appropriate title, by the way, was a final act of generosity; the musical equivalent of a farewell hug before you depart for unknown shores. For one thing, there was the breadth and calibre of guests who showed up to help Murphy through this mammoth undertaking. Arcade Fire singing backup vocals on “North American Scum“. Reggie Watts scatting through the second part of “45:33”. Marcus Lambkin (a.k.a. Shit Robot) doing vocoderised battle with John MacLean (of The Juan MacLean and Six Finger Satellite) from opposing cardboard space-ships. A male choir which included the punk-rock-cum-music-critic band Mr. Dream. Quickly, I lost count of how many people were on stage.

My introduction to Talking Heads was, because I am a young person, listening to the 1984 live album Stop Making Sense. A year later or so, I unearthed the concert film of the same name, directed by Jonathan Demme. The concert in question, which took place at Hollywood’s Pantages Theater, is the best point of comparison to The Long Goodbye (lots of guest musicians, stylised overarching narrative), but even it pales in comparison to LCD Soundsystem’s ordeal. The Madison Square Garden concert was the culmination of a week’s worth of “warm-up” gigs at Terminal 5, each of which had themselves lasted three hours. This climactic event was split into multiple themed movements, each with their own costume changes. By dint of being a conclusion, as well as an apotheosis, there was a palpable countdown going on, as the band neared the final song (inevitably, “New York I Love You But You’re Bringing Me Down”).

In one of the episodes of the video diary which charted the progress of recording LCD Soundsystem’s final album, Murphy himself waxed philosophical on the closing phase of the band. “This has to happen,” he said, “this has to happen now.” And this was before the album had even been christened. Evidently, throughout the recording of This Is Happening, Murphy and his acolytes were cognisant of the external pressures acting on them, building up the sense of event surrounding the album’s release. This was not the overbearing hype that precedes the début of a twenty-one-year old, nor was it the calculating PR mumbo-jumbo that swathes the rebirth of a fallen popstar. This was the love of a band’s adoring fans and critics, by some process of osmosis, bleeding into everyday life at the Manshun.

And then Murphy would pull the rug from under his own feet, punch himself in the nose, and insist that it was “just a record”.

This tension between preparing for some kind of messianic happening, and just trying to have a good time, manifested itself in glorious fashion on the album in question. And come 2nd April, the same beast reared its head: the timer was counting down to the inevitable, while the band just wanted everyone to have fun. Fortunately, the execution was every bit as good as the conception, because this performance was flawless.

Judging by the reactions of those who were there in person, this concert may go down in history as one of the most culturally significant events of the twenty-first century. Back at home, some of this drama failed to seep through the computer screen—LCD pixels cannot convey emotion in the same way, it would seem. But even this simulacrum of being there was thrilling and moving, and I’d like to think at least some of the on-stage ecstasy found its way into my room.

The balance between chart-pleasing hits (though, as Murphy has intimated, “Maybe we don’t do hits”) and fan-pleasing cuts was struck perfectly in the first and third sets, and so we had “All My Friends” followed by “Tired”, and “North American Scum” trailed by the first and last performance of “Bye Bye Bayou“, an Alan Vega cover. Everywhere, you could see the band’s mastery of interstitial transitions between songs, a carryover from DJ-ing, no doubt, as in the way “You Wanted A Hit” morphed into “Tribulations” via Pat Mahoney’s indefatigable drumming, or in the way Gavin Russom artfully transformed the white-noise blowout at the end of “Yeah” into the elegant squiggles of “Someone Great”.

LCD Soundsystem - Shit Robot
Marcus Lambkin a.k.a. Shit Robot – Flickr user veropie

The second set was a treat for LCD die-hards, no mistake. I had longed to see “45:33” being given an airing, and here it was! With a brass band in tin-foil spacesuits! While the other players got on with the job, you could see Murphy lurking around the back of the stage, tinkering with keyboards and amps and generally preparing himself for life post-LCD. It doesn’t suit him right now, but I’m sure in time it will.

It has been noted from both within and without the band that LCD Soundsystem were bulletproof from the start—that the mythos of the band proscribed criticism. I think that’s true, but I don’t say that in a curmudgeonly spirit. I read somewhere else that LCD was the band people had dared to dream about for a lifetime: with that kind of anticipation, who would begrudge them an iota of acclaim?

But even if you were the kind of person who winced at the plaudits they have attracted, The Long Goodbye was their night; their chance to go out with a bang at everyone’s expense. And, credit to them, they didn’t. Worthier champions than that, the gig felt inclusive and all-encompassing. More than that, it looked like an effort beyond the call of duty. As we approached the finale–three songs left… two songs left…–Murphy was visibly shattered; destroyed, even. A week of exertions had taken their toll on the man; nine years of a purported ‘side-project’ had almost claimed a victim. But he was determined to the end, which made for a wonderful night.

LCD Soundsystem - Madison Square Garden -  4.2.11
Balloons at the end – Flickr user skinnyboybalki

And so they departed, “like a sales-force into the night”, Murphy pausing only to tentatively stab a stray balloon which had worked its way onto the stage, before making a characteristically low-key exit.

How I will miss this band.♦

Field Music — Scala (03/03/10)

Photos: Richard Gray

The Brewis brothers are clearly extremely gifted musicians, who write songs (under the banner of Field Music) which are intricately arranged, structurally complex, and traditionally evoke XTC, Steely Dan and the Beach Boys. None of this makes their music particularly easy to love – though their Geordie voices are thick with region, they rarely let their emotional guards down, hence why some critics have labelled their music cold and mechanical and knowingly tricksy.

None of this can prepare me for witnessing them live – an environment which accentuates their flaws as well as their virtues. Augmented by Ian Black and Kevin Dosdale on bass and guitar respectively, the band launch into Tones of Town opener, “Give It Lose It Take It” amidst found sound, glockenspiels, rousing piano and thoroughly excellent drumming. For a few songs at least, the playfulness is plain to see, and the predominantly Sunderland-bookish crowd rewards them with a whole lotta love.

When the band cut to newer material, taken from the recent Field Music (Measure) double-album, the response is notably muted, because the band have to an extent abandoned the bucolic textures of their earlier work, in favour of a more guitar-based aesthetic that owes much more to Led Zeppelin, Fleetwood Mac and, on occasion, Queen. However, bereft of the intense personality bestowed upon these progenitors, the songs sound strangely lurching and mathematical. Though Field Music are, individually, some of the funniest, warmest and most virtuosic musicians, the sum is sadly less than its constituent parts.

All the more infuriating is just how playful and quick-witted the band seem in between songs, where they deal with all manner of obstacles, from troublesome electricals to the bassist’s Hawaiian shirt. The Prince-meets-Sunderland funk of “Let’s Write A Book” is very much the exception to this disappointing revelation – for once, the groove is remarkably simple, and it evinces the band’s personality. For the middle chunk of the performance, songs like “Something Familiar” and “Each Time Is A New Time” are dispatched with maximum skill (replete with tasteful bluesy guitar licks) but less-than satisfactory enjoyment.

I have really loved Field Music for far too long, championing them to my friends when their chips were down. Now, after a three-year hiatus, I find it hard to empathise with their new direction which, though on record comes across as lovingly crafted and “makes sense”, doesn’t work that well on stage. Though the band pad out the pure Field Music work with excerpts from their solo albums, I left with mixed opinions of a band who I thought I had really figured out.

Spoon — Electric Ballroom (16/02/10)

Spoon‘s 1997 EP was entitled Soft Effects; its opener, “Mountain To Sound”, was an almost robotic splurge of chunky guitar chords over a barren expanse of tape. Thirteen years on, Spoon trade in far subtler terms on record – the psychoanalytically titled Transference possesses compositions of nuanced yet ragged beauty, replete with lovingly painted washes of droning synths and bizarre vocal, yes, effects. Going in to my first Spoon gig, what I wanted to know was how this meticulously arranged chaos that the band have mastered in the studio plays out in a live setting, where everything is instantaneous and nothing can be rearranged or meddled with later on.

Impressively, and perhaps this is a rationale for why so much of Transference stems from live demo tracks, the band pulls off the performance with passionate and anthemic aplomb. From the get go, they are unafraid of playing with our conceptions of how their songs, whether new or old, sound and develop. Opener “Don’t Make Me A Target” is suitably slow-building, rising to a brutal peak as frontman Britt Daniel conjures the same vocal trickery used in their newer material. Throughout the gig, two things remain constant: the entire band’s sonic tapestry-weaving, and drummer Jim Eno’s delightedly precise and virtuosic rhythms, which manage to fulfil the same manifesto as opening band White Rabbits’ arsenal of percussionsists with considerably more economy and considerably less showiness.

A few songs later, when translating another Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga gem, “The Ghost Of You Lingers”, the band once again engage in direct combat with the material, with Britt Daniel’s characteristic gravelly bark gradually overwhelmed by feedback, reverb-drenched keyboards, and bliss-nearing slabs of white noise. From a band that usually trades in rock qua rock, in a minimalist style, this is an unexpected gesture that revels in their playful, emotionally raw experimental side.

The setlist is culled almost exclusively from the band’s last four albums (alas, despite numerous calls from the crowd, “Fitted Shirt” is absent, along with anything else from Girls Can Tell and its predecessors), but to be honest, many of the songs are melded into the aesthetic favoured on recent release Transference – in particular, “My Mathematical Mind” and “They Never Got You” are subsumed into effects-heavy motorik grooves, much to their advantage. Britt Daniel looks like he’s having a riot of a time mucking around with his voice, and it’s just as well that the crowd adoringly lap up his playfulness. This is evidenced further by the band’s mesmerising cover of The Damned’s 1979 single, “Love Song”, which ditches the original’s clattering punk in favour of the same droney keyboards that underpin “Before Destruction”.

Nevertheless, when it’s time to rock out, Spoon prove they’re no slouches, with “Rhthm & Soul” and “You Got Yr. Cherry Bomb” dispatched with great vigour and sparkle. Kill The Moonlight-era fare, meanwhile, is represented by the classic pairing of “Small Stakes” and “The Way We Get By”, and encore closer “Jonathan Fisk”, which is delivered with the maximum conveyance of end-of-tether anxiety.

As I’ve mentioned on previous occasions, it’s a crying shame that Spoon aren’t bigger fish here in the UK – particularly telling is the fact that on the same night, on the other side of London, bright young things Vampire Weekend were busy playing to a sell-out crowd at Brixton Academy. On the other hand, it’s always a pleasure to see such masters of their art at close quarters, and in this respect, the Electric Ballroom can’t be beaten. Taken in combination with probably the best live mix/engineering I’ve witnessed at a gig (we can thank the perfectionist Jim Eno for that, I suspect, and not just because the drums were notably crisp), this was a really tremendous performance, with a set of songs cherrypicked from a career full of cult classics. Spoon rarely bring their concise breed of art rock to Britain; this was an unmissable opportunity to see them weave their magic over a rainy and miserable London.

Spoon played:

Don’t Make Me A Target
The Mystery Zone
The Beast and Dragon, Adored
My Mathematical Mind
The Ghost of You Lingers
Is Love Forever?
Don’t You Evah
Small Stakes
Love Song (The Damned cover)
Written In Reverse
Who Makes Your Money
The Way We Get By
You Got Yr. Cherry Bomb
They Never Got You
I Summon You
Rhthm & Soul
Got Nuffin
Black Like Me

Encore

The Underdog
Nobody Gets Me But You
I Turn My Camera On
Jonathon Fisk

Modest Mouse — Electric Ballroom (16/12/09)

The last time I saw Modest Mouse performing live, it was May 2007 – they were raising the roof of the Royal Albert Hall while Liverpool were busy losing in the Champions League final. Since then, a lot has changed. Johnny Marr has taken time out of the band to work with The Cribs; Liverpool are no longer even competing in the Champions League. And this time round, Modest Mouse have swapped the hallowed hall imbued with the spirit of Hendrix for the sardine-packed club atmosphere of Camden’s Electric Ballroom. Their numerous instruments and bandmembers shoehorned onto a stage barely bigger than my bedroom, the band look and sound like a troupe of consummate professionals, ostensibly touring in support of an EP, but in reality taking to the stage out of love for their devoted followers, and love of taking their rural groove out on the road. Continue reading Modest Mouse — Electric Ballroom (16/12/09)