Madison Square Garden was transformed into a 20,000-person dance party Saturday night, as LCD Soundsystem played their final show.
The New York City-based act has retired after nine years and three albums. The farewell performance was a nearly sold-out event, with, at the band’s request, an audience dressed almost entirely in black and white.
The evening started with Liquid Liquid, an underground dance-rock band from the 80s and one of LCD’s primary influences.
“We’re Liquid Liquid and this is Madison Square Garden,” said vocalist Salvatore Principato with bewilderment as he walked on stage. Even in its heyday the band never played for crowds much larger than a couple thousand. Their half-hour set ended with an extended version of “Optimo,” the band’s most well-known song.
LCD Soundsystem took the stage 40 minutes later sans vocalist and mastermind James Murphy, who strolled on stage separately and to massive applause. They opened with This is Happening’s lead track and fan favorite “Dance Yrself Clean.” The song’s sparse three-minute introduction gave way to the first big moment of the night as the mountainous synth entrance signaled flashing lights and an eruption of glow sticks from all sides of the arena.
The rest of the first act played out like a typical LCD show: rockers “Drunk Girls” and “Daft Punk is Playing at My House” peppered with some deep cuts from their debut album and sophomore effort Sound of Silver. The penultimate song, however, contained one of the night’s most poignant moments.
Murphy and company launched into one of their signature tunes, “All My Friends.” The track, an emotionally charged and constantly crescendoing retrospective tale of life as a traveling musician, spurred a widespread realization of the finality of this performance. The crowd roared as Murphy sang, “To tell the truth, this could be the last time,” a lyric that alludes to his constant struggles with keeping the project alive for as long as it was.
The first act came to a close with the Stooges-esque noise-punk of “Tired,” the most aggressive song in the LCD catalogue.
The second act itself was one of the biggest surprises of the night. The crowd was treated to a performance of 45:33, a James Murphy composition commissioned by Nike and supposedly designed to be the perfect jogging accompaniment, in its entirety. The 46-minute, mostly instrumental, space-funk freak out was accompanied by a chorus, brass band – complete with astronaut suits – and appearances by Brooklyn-based comedian Reggie Watts and LCD label-mate Shit Robot.
Watts, humongous afro in hand, only reinforced the decidedly funk sounds of 45:33’s first third as he soulfully wailed the vocals of its second movement. The band then transitioned into “Sound of Silver,” which was brought new life by an entirely white-clad chorus.
The rest of the second act was dominated by 45:33 and its brass compositions. Shit Robot appeared in costume to deliver the fifth movement’s narration from a spaceship located in one of the arena’s empty sections and the act closed out with the Parliament and 80’s synth pop sounds of b-side “Freak Out/Starry Eyed.”
Act three brought things back to reality, starting with the effortlessly danceable “Us V Them” complete with giant disco-ball.
What followed was another of the night’s biggest moments: an appearance by several members of LCD’s former tourmates and now Grammy-award winning superstars Arcade Fire. Win and Will Butler and Régine Chassagne provided the wild screams for the chorus of a blistering “North American Scum,” a wild rock tune about the treatment of Americans traveling in Europe.
The third act ended with the massive 10-minute explosion of electronics and percussion of “Yeah,” a staple of LCD’s live shows.
The final act began with “Someone Great” followed by “Losing My Edge,” two of Murphy’s most personal songs. The latter happens to be the first song ever released by the project and this, its final performance, hit hard, with snippets of other songs thrown into the mix as their respective artists were name-checked (the iconic synth line of Daft Punk’s “Da Funk” being a highlight of the entire evening).
It closed out with a touching version of This is Happening’s closer “Home,” accompanied by footage sent in by LCD fans from around the world.
“It’s been a long show,” Murphy said as he reentered for the final encore. “Thanks for putting up with us.”
The announcement that the band’s final song was coming up was met with boos and disappointment from the crowd. “Hey,” Murphy responded, “I don’t want to hear ‘aw’ and ‘oh no’. This is our last song!”
Murphy was addressing what this performance meant all along. Prior to the show banners throughout the arena read “RIP LCD.” This was a funeral.
But a funeral is not only an opportunity to mourn. It is also an opportunity to remember and celebrate a life. This is what Murphy had in mind.
What followed was a gut-wrenching performance of perennially perfect closer “New York, I Love You but You’re Bringing Me Down.” An emotional Murphy needed to take a moment during the first few lines. A false ending, powerful reprise and a balloon drop later and it was over. Murphy waved, bowed and embraced his bandmates and friends.
LCD Soundsystem did something quite special that night. Their show is not meant for 20,000 seat arenas. They are and always have been a club band, concerned first and foremost with getting bodies moving on the dance floor, but faced with the largest crowd they will ever see, Murphy and company transformed a boxing arena into a dance hall and conducted an impossibly intimate farewell.