LCD Soundsystem is an ensemble band shrouded by a wall of instruments, wires and amps. It’s a sea of middle-aged craft beer-drinkers who remember the 2005 release of the self-titled album LCD Soundsystem and proceeded to burn “Daft Punk Is Playing at My House” onto CDs for loved ones. It’s multi-instrumentalist Nancy Whang at the Hearst Greek Theatre, bathed in a hazy spotlight, mixing the first bars of “You Wanted A Hit” as singer James Murphy emerges onto the stage in his classic black sports jacket for the first time of the night.
In a moment about halfway through the first song, all the lights on the stage went down. As the piece began to crescendo again, red beams shot from the massive disco ball that hung over the musicians, showering the awestruck audience in streaks of light. For all the things LCD Soundsystem usually is, in that moment, the band was just the darkened crowd, the red light, and the music.
At the Greek Theatre that night, Murphy and his band broke the Berkeley amphitheater away from reality. During the two-hour set, the audience became completely entranced by Murphy’s synths and amps — dancing the night away under the nearly full moon.
In its live performance, LCD Soundsystem brought new life to its music. Murphy and his band sang every lyric to every song — there wasn’t a single moment of stale recorded vocals. In his recorded music, Murphy’s voice is typically a little flat; he uses his vocals as another instrument that’s rarely the focal point of his work. In his live performance of “Tribulations,” his voice shot into every corner of the amphitheater, the audience jiving to every delivered chorus.
Not only did Murphy give his recorded works energy with his live vocals, he added spice to each one of his pieces with the quirky instrumental solos he took. In “I Can Change,” he brought a drumstick along with him to the edge of the stage. As Pat Mahoney ripped away at the drum set in perfect time, Murphy played along by smacking the drum stick against the mic stand. When the band played one of its greatest hits, “Daft Punk Is Playing at My House,” Murphy made sure to bring the unexpected. With a straight face and sweat stains emerging on his gray shirt, he got the entire crowd thrashing to a riveting cowbell solo.
Overall during the show, there was an obvious focus on the band’s older works. Of all the songs the band performed, only a handful were from its latest album American Dream, released in September 2017. American Dream, being the band’s latest work, has a sound that diverges from LCD Soundsystem’s first few releases. But musicians who have been touring for more than two decades have a sense of what audiences want — they don’t want a publicity tour of the latest and greatest hits, they want to bathe in the nostalgia of their favorite songs and they want to live in the sound that defined their best memories. In its Greek Theatre performance, LCD Soundsystem stayed refreshingly true to its old sound, while also filling its music with an invigorating presence.
This vitality didn’t just come from the hypnotic light display, the vocals and the improvised instrumentals. Although all these components made for an an incredibly memorable performance, the band also constructed this compelling narrative with its setlist. LCD Soundsystem started off with the higher-energy songs — songs that also talked about the existentialism of performing. From “Call the Police” to “Movement,” the band got the crowd excited while also bringing a message with the signature LCD Soundsystem snark. Toward the end of its set, the band played the more sentimental pieces: “Oh Baby,” “Dance Yrself Clean,” “All My Friends.” And that’s where it ended. In the soft pink lighting of the stage, the members of LCD Soundsystem said goodbye to their friends and fans at the Greek Theatre and closed out a show that brought life, love and a party.
Annalise Kamegawa covers music. Contact her at [email protected].