Arcade Fire & LCD Soundsystem at the Bowl

Arcade Fire

“We rented the biggest disco ball we could find,” James Murphy shares with us between songs. Leading the LCD Soundsystem live incarnation–Nancy Whang on synths, Pat Mahoney, the world’s tightest drummer, Al Doyle on guitar, Phil Skarich on bass–through a near perfect set at the Hollywood Bowl, James made a strong case for a new breed of no nonsense rock n’ roll front man.

On what’s probably the biggest stage he’s ever played he deconstructs and demystifies the event before us at every chance he gets between songs–pointing out the LED timer on stage that clocks their allotted time; pointing out his newly acquired high tensile mic stand; and ultimately confiding to us “You what to know the funny thing about this? This is our job!” There is more than irony at play here. The thing is, James respects his audience. He doesn’t insult our intelligence by attempting to maintain any kind of rock façade. This is the guy after all who sings, “It’s a fat guy in a T-shirt doing all the singing.” (He’s sporting a wrinkled button down oxford and blazer this night, in case you were wondering.) He gets it, knows we get it, so cuts the shit and just give us the rock and the grooves.

And rock and groove they do. End to end, no sag in their set. Hit after hit, a set divided evenly over their two records, with the inclusion of the usual freak out “Yeah” from the early 12 inches. This is not mere “dance music” but danceable music. That distinction is admittedly a bit pedantic, but LCD won’t be pigeonholed into that category. Their most common song template might be a dance 4/4 with accented upbeats but only in as much as 12 bar blues is a template for rock.

LCD’s human element is key. It comes across in the lyrics and even more so in their live show. A track like “All My Friends” with it’s incessant piano riff and bass lock groove could easily be MIDI sequenced, but they don’t cheat the audience and play it all live, allowing for builds and sustains intensity in ways that computers might not. The power trio at the core of the LCD band gets a chance to jam at the end of set closer “New York I Love You.” This reviewer would have traded that final tune for “Someone Great,” but you can’t always get what you want, as some rock front man, who’s looking increasingly ridiculous these days, once sang.

“It seems like just yesterday we were playing Spaceland,” Win says. It’s actually been couple of years or so since that show, their LA debut, but his point is well taken: they’ve climbed up to the big time fast. I can’t think of another band in the last several years that has emerged to headline the Bowl after only two LP releases.

They now come with a with a full arena show multimedia intro–YouTube-quality UHF preacher clips on lollipop displays, the audio gradually drowned out by a MBVish guitar loop. Augmented by touring string and brass players, the Arcade Fire mass on the Bowl stage and lurch into “Black Mirror.” This is a band that its most rabid fans recognize as individual characters. Win in his uniform, this reflective striped getup that looks at once futuristic and old fashioned. Regine has her lace gloves on, cranking a hurdy gurdy. Tim is now fully bearded; Richard has shed his glasses on stage for good apparently; Sarah’s hair has gotten longer. They’re a motley bunch that has that sort of rag tag underdog quality, apparently using whatever instruments they can get their hands on; this is no small part of their appeal.

At the outset at the Bowl, though, they lumbered somewhat and didn’t feel as sharp as they have been, even on this very stage previously (with David Byrne, about six months after Spaceland). Not even the chord change dive in “Black Mirror” cuts with any teeth. It’s not until “Laika” do they (or the soundman, who appropriately boosts high freqs) really get going. “No Cars Go,” “Haiti” and “Intervention” come in quick succession build an early peak in their set. Then they lose us a bit with a middle stanza that runs newer mostly mid-tempo tunes “Antichrist TV Blues,” “My Body Is A Cage,” “Windowsill” and “Ocean of Noise” all in a row. There is a short bit of something new apparently called “Money Changes Everything,” which may or may not be a Cyndi Lauper cover. But short of that, the set is fairly standard and, by their own standards, safe set. Surely the occasion merited a special tune or two. Maybe a “Cold Wind” or something just a bit rare to mark the occasion. But by the time the “Tunnels” riff tears through the air–perhaps this half-generation’s “Airbag” equivalent–rolls around, all is fine, any quibbling is set aside, and the BYOBing at the Bowl has fully set in. The woah oh oh oh uh ohhh melody is a perfect drinking song, and the crowd, 15,000, give or take, bellowed it out to the sky. Usual show closer “Wake Up,” with its even more infectious refrain of whoas and ohs and that jitterbug tempo coda, sent the crowd home buzzing with good vibes.

Photo by Jeremy