With Sleigh Bells
Wednesday, October 6, 2010
The Fillmore Miami Beach
Better Than: A million of those disappointing "appearances" by dance band members who wind up only doing DJ sets.
If James Murphy's voice started giving out a little towards the end, he could be forgiven.
Justifying every penny of the nearly $50 ticket price, his band, LCD Soundsystem played for nearly two hours, working the crowd into a lather and smearing the faces of even the most jaded with shit-eating grins. The show reached year's-top-10 levels of epic by, oh, the fourth song. Imagine going to the best dance party of your life with the best band playing, with all your best friends around you having the best time ever. Yes, it was really like that.
Even openers' Sleigh Bells' slightly undercooked noise-pop worked as a warm-up in this context. The duo, whose brains reside entirely in songwriter/guitarist Derek Miller, has barely one album of material and isn't totally developed enough for big stages. But then again, this is the Internet age, which means a co-sign from M.I.A. has sent this band out already on the festival circuit.
Sleigh Bells is, of course, another blog success story, and the band's full-length proper debut came quickly after some blog hits. Unfortunately, this means that most of the filler material sounds like the blog hits, a fact that becomes more clear when the songs are performed in quick succession and at high volume.
Sleigh Bells' bass-rattling is impressive, but with basically the same rhythm on every song played, it didn't give the band's set much of a crescendo. Frontwoman Alexis Krauss gamely jumps around onstage. But considering she doesn't write music or lyrics -- a fact to which the band openly admits in interviews -- and that live, she sounds aided by many pre-recorded vocal loops, Miller could likely substitute any cute, reedy-voiced female here.
That said, Miller coaxes out some interesting sound textures, and their intensity is always at level 10. Most importantly, the band achieved what an opener should: It raised the energy level and got the crowd pumped for the headliners.
If a lot of Sleigh Bells' set, beyond Miller's buoyant guitar work, seemed canned, LCD Soundsystem itself was anything but. As a bandleader, James Murphy has always carefully tiptoed on the line between an electronic act and a "band" proper, with recordings sounding more like the former. As a live act, though, his creation is a different beast entirely.
Once upon a time, even disco acts were, at their essence, live funk bands. LCD picks up on that tradition, the flesh-and-blood dance band, but drags it through a paint bucket of influences and updates. A large chunk of the band's sound is, really, pastiche -- a collection of various New York avant-garde sounds, largely from the '70s and '80s -- but it all gets updated through contemporary technology.
If old No Wave acts could actually play their instruments and figure out newfangled computers, they might sound like LCD Soundsystem live: raw but swinging. Think, maybe, the Talking Heads before the Patrick Batemans of the world started liking them, with possibly more Moogs and the kind of complex circuitry only an engineer or gear geek could love.
Live, every sound made by LCD Soundsystem is actually happening. Unlike many so-called dance "bands," Murphy and company are not content to pantomime over a laptop track. In fact, there were some seven people onstage, all talented multi-instrumentalists who often switched between synths, vocals, and sometimes the more prosaic stringed guitar. Murphy, meanwhile, serves as shaman, bandleader, and lead singer, his enthusiasm often trumping vocal fatigue.
The set, of course, didn't comprise a huge number of songs, as many individual ones can near the 10-minute mark. Still, it touched on club favorites new and old -- "Daft Punk is Playing At My House," "Drunk Girls" -- as well as more unexpected cuts -- "Losing My Edge" -- from the band's three albums.
Bolstered by a backdrop of wall-to-wall, stadium-style lighting, the evening built in intensity, with a steady groove building into a near-squall of noise eventually. Remember in the mid-'00s when people used the term "punk funk?" It made sense again near the halfway mark, when many of the songs started to take on a new, distorted edge. "All My Friends" somehow turned into a rowdy, grab-your-bros-and-scream-along anthem, and "Tribulations" almost snarled.
But the crowd came to dance, dammit, and Murphy obliged with the late-set lowering of an enormous disco ball to mass apeshit-going. It was a glittering nod to both the band's musical roots and to the party-time ethos of the city in which it was playing, a magical combination that went down especially sweet.
Personal Bias: I liked Derek Miller as a member of Miami experimental hardcore diehards Poison the Well. I don't want that band to reunite or still be around or anything, but I wonder how long these drastically different musical ideas were germinating in his head.
The Crowd: Pretty much everybody under 40 and into things like music, fun, and dancing, it seemed.
Overheard in the Crowd: "I don't need to see as long as I have room to DANCE!"
LCD Soundsystem Set List:
-"Dance Yrself Clean"
-"Yr City's a Sucker"
-"Daft Punk is Playing at My House"
-"I Can Change"
-"All My Friends"
-"You Wanted a Hit"
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-"Losing My Edge"