LCD Soundsystem spellbinds San Francisco in surreal set

Aren Saunders-Gonzalez/Staff

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Tuesday night’s Bill Graham Civic Auditorium crowd was humming with anticipation by the time LCD Soundsystem’s synth queen Nancy Whang greeted the audience with a couple of loosely placed key trills. A shared incredulous apprehension, an “Is this actually going to happen?” buzz seemed to saturate the airy arena — because really, six years ago, no fan or member of LCD Soundsystem would’ve believed this show would be happening.

The New York-based band, now touring in promotion of its latest album, announced it would be breaking up in 2011. Its 2017 release, american dream, was just that for LCD Soundsystem’s devotees — a dream. And as the band’s energy built through the steady introductory instrumentals of opening number “Get Innocuous!” the auditorium was filled with a surreal tingling electricity.

The incessant mystical vocals and rhythmic electronics of LCD’s first tune immediately thrust intensity forward and into the crowd. The band rolled easily out of “Get Innocuous!” and into the punchy snare, upbeat electronic “whops” and decorative cowbell riffs of “Daft Punk Is Playing At My House,” building into a trancelike intensity.

The band’s idiosyncratic, yet somehow alluringly glamorous, frontman James Murphy paused after this tune to acknowledge the crowd with a quick, “Okey doke. Hi!” Characteristically reticent, Murphy said just a few words before LCD Soundsystem continued on to dazzle the already riveted crowd with “I Can Change.”

Despite later announcing, “Wow, my voice is really fucked up,” Murphy drove the song and much of the set with his steady flow of rich vocals. A collective chorus filled the arena as the audience belted along, “I can change, I can change, I can change / If it helps you fall in love.”

As band and crowd melted together into one flowing unit of the group’s characteristic alternative electronic rock dance sound, it became clear that LCD Soundsystem was back – and it was like it had never left.

A single spotlight illuminated Murphy’s stiffly unmoving figure as his voice rang out to start, “call the police.” As he sung the tune’s introspective first lines, “We all, we all / we all, we all / know this is nothing,” the stage became Murphy’s and Murphy’s alone.

During “call the police” and other vocally focused songs, LCD Soundsystem’s frontman exuded a show-stealing pensive intensity. At these moments the band’s innumerable moving parts and amalgam of skilled musicians came together to provide their frontman with a masterful unified musical foundation upon which he soared.

But guitar solos, distorted synths, hypnotizing electronics and explosive percussive elements were the focal points of tunes that utilized the band’s intricacies. “i used to,” “You Wanted a Hit” and “Movement” relied on the consummate cataclysm of unified sound produced by LCD Soundsystem’s numerous instrumentalists.

Flawlessly rising and falling out of the spotlight, LCD Soundsystem’s borderline supernatural presence was bolstered by visually mesmerizing flashing strobes and swirling disco balls.

While highlights such as “Home” exuded relentless energy and drew upon the power of these blaring light shows, the moments in which the band truly shone were those of visual and musical simplicity. As they rose to a pinnacle of performance energy on “Someone Great,” the lights were stripped down to simple white, laying bare the precise movements of every musician on stage.

The band closed out the first portion of its set with “New York I Love You But You’re Bringing Me Down,” uniting the auditorium in a collective sway of the solemnity that is so deftly captured by the ballad.

And after hurling the audience through this 14-song emotional roller coaster, the band members came back on stage, excusing their absence by explaining “We just had to pee,” to elevate the crowd’s energy through an explosive encore. Escalating through “oh baby,” a highlight track off the new album, and pounding into its two most popular tunes — “Dance Yrself Clean,” followed by “All My Friends” — LCD Soundsystem left the audience in a state of heart-pounding breathlessness most reminiscent of waking up from an indescribably exhilarating dream.

Contact Claralyse Palmer at [email protected].