The last time LCD Soundsystem was at Austin City Limits Music Festival, it was a golden hour set in 2010. The band hadn’t broken up just quite yet. “This Is Happening” had recently come out. That famous “last show” at Madison Square Garden hadn’t happened. Captain Beefheart was still alive.
But now, it’s 2016. #ICYMI
James Murphy’s band broke up, things were said, time passed. Daft Punk had a top 10 hit in the U.S. (non-dance charts) and probably won’t be playing many more house parties in general. LCD Soundsystem got back together, more things were said on the Internet with a little more exasperation. But we’ve all grown up a little. And we need our friends more than ever.
While Mumford & Sons sang songs about Carey Mulligan across the park, LCD Soundsystem threw the kind of party on the Honda stage that breaks your heart just to make you feel you better. As far as closing night sets at ACL Fest go, this was top tier. It was the kind of sensory spectacle — laser guns, drum machines, the complexity of human relationships — that makes you love the stranger standing next to you.
The funky licks and incessant cowbells of “Us V. Them” rolled in with the misty clouds overhead, with Murphy lit from above for the appropriate air of mystery. Before you knew it, blistering guitars and deafening beeps screamed through the field, a white dwarf star of light from the back of the stage hot on their heels. This was not likely to win over anyone who just came to hear “Drunk Girls.” (Which they did not play, so you might not need to read any further, if that was you.)
The stage’s armory of instruments and ENIAC stand-ins was a beautiful Rube Goldberg machine. The band morphed in and out of hits and deeper cuts. Murphy’s lovable vocal idiosyncrasies wiggled out triumphantly on “Daft Punk Is Playing At My House,” where he hit peak verbal cavorting. “I Can Change,” in a vacuum of the band’s songs, still sounds like the very idea of cool, moving bodies without so much as a bass drop. (Sorry, kiddos. Grandpa’s very tired after the festival.) A girl next to me twerked during “You Wanted A Hit,” as Murphy yelped his weird trill and his eye sockets were blacked out by the lights. That’s gotta say something for the unifying music of this band.
It wasn’t all pretty sounds. “Yeah” was a chaotic tunnel of feedback and glitches that still flayed any bad vibes off the crowd. “Losing My Edge” seemed to lose the non-diehards, which is hilarious if you think about it for precisely one second. But the brutal, razor-edged sentimentality of the band’s big guns linked lyrical arms at the end. “Someone Great” yanked all the nostalgia levers. “New York, I Love You, But You’re Bringing Me Down” was suitably silly and bittersweet, played against the backdrop of an illuminated Gotham skyline. If you were going to pick two songs to end the set with, you’d pick the ones that made the cut. “Dance Yrself Clean” and Nancy Whang’s keys triggered a Pavlovian response in the entire audience to flail without self-consciousness, the lights making the park look like a 3D glasses factory exploded. By the end of the song, the crowed was a well-washed bunch.
The show closed with “All My Friends.”
Lots of folks have an LCD Soundsystem story. I might choose the time I picked up “I Can Change” on the radio in rainy, back-country Virginia on a lonely return drive from a mountain called the Devil’s Marbleyard, or maybe sweating through my shirt to “All My Friends” at Barbarella with my best friends after a particularly stressful week/year. This night will be lots of people’s LCD Soundsystem story. It was an undeniable communal experience, and who’s to say the band will stick around again long enough to have something like it again. But as the stage’s vast screen showed a small city of fans screaming and swaying from a bird’s eye view, we were safe, for the moment.