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Live Review: LCD Soundsystem and Sleigh Bells, October 1, 2010, Hamilton College – Clinton, NY

Photo by Nathan Matisse

Anyone who goes to college concerts knows they generally don’t live up to normal show expectations: the crowd is usually just a bunch of drunk kids who aren’t into it, the band is just making a pit stop between tour dates, the venue is designed for basketball rather than live music, or any other host of problems. LCD Soundsystem’s show at Hamilton last night may have had some of these practical issues, but I guarantee nobody noticed.

The Annex at Hamilton is definitely not a rock venue, but it looked a lot like one for this night. The stage setup occupied almost half of the room, complete with temporary lighting towers and a sound system that rolled into Central New York on a 16-wheeler. The annex isn’t a huge place to begin with, and with the stage it became an absolutely miniscule venue for a band that has been headlining festivals like Berlin and Pitchfork. Only 800 tickets were sold, making the show the smallest that LCD has played in roughly 5 years. Looking at the empty space, I was shocked that even that many could fit.

The hordes of probably inebriated students rushed in around 7:30, just in time (and in the right state of mind) for Sleigh Bells’ opening set. Other than the drum kit sitting lonely in its signature LCD placement at the front of the stage, the only gear onstage for the openers was a wall of black Marshall amp stacks, setting the tone both literally and visually for Sleigh Bells’ performance.
Even though the songs consisted mostly of recorded backing tracks, the Brooklyn duo put on a dynamic, booming show that fit its purpose perfectly. The sound setup literally shook everything in the room, tickling my nostrils with every heavy bass blast. Guitarist Derek E. Miller played a supporting role to Alexis Krauss’ electric sing-yelling, pounding out distorted power chords on his black Jackson. Krauss played the crowd perfectly, radiating energy and bombast with her stage presence and aggressive vocals. On a few songs Miller left the stage, leaving Alexis to carry the entire weight of the performance, which she handled easily. Their set only lasted about 30 minutes, but that much of the most aggressive bubblegum pop on earth left the crowd needing some rest before James Murphy and friends.

LCD Soundsystem’s stage is a testament to the hipster, analog synth-centric trend. Each band member has a station laden with percussion instruments and synths, reflecting the focal points of Murphy’s compositions. As expected, the crowd cheered loudly at the first glimpse of the electronic godfather himself, decked out in his ill-fitting pants, plaid shirt and scraggly grey beard. The heavy synth line alternating between two sustained notes brought an even louder cheer, signaling the intro to This is Happening’s opener, “Dance Yrself Clean.” Murphy originally explained that the piece was too complex to attempt live, but they broke it out at the first show of this tour in New Jersey and it has assumed the opening spot on the setlist since. The percussion elements of the recorded version were scaled back in the live context, shifting the focus to the synth and bass lines. While the quiet sections lacked the delicacy and precision of the record, the loud parts exploded with powerful attacks of sound and light. From my spot along the front barricade I almost felt the weight of the synth and bass blow me back, assaulting and hypnotizing the audience and setting the tone for the rest of the show.

“Dance Yrself” also showed one of Murphy’s quirky habits as a performer, as he spent most of the first quiet section puttering around the stage and fixing little details on different pieces of equipment while he sang. This continued throughout the show as he re-adjusted mic stands, fiddled with synth knobs, tightened cymbal screws, wiped off and re-attatched his square vocal mic, and any other little touchups that he noticed. He basically assumed the contrasting roles of frontman and roadie, taking it upon himself to make the show run perfectly. This endearing attention to detail permeates Murphy’s personality, from his music to his interactions with fans after the show. He even dedicated some of his between-song stage banter to reminding all the college students that “fewer” is grammatically correct when speaking about amounts, citing the maddening habit of replacing “fewer” with “less” in all conversational situations.

The set continued with the much-requested “Drunk Girls,” a song that I usually skip on the album but fit perfectly in the context of a Friday-night college party. Throughout the show Murphy’s support musicians played a virtual Guitar Center’s worth of different instruments, and likewise “Drunk Girls” featured two different Soundsystem members on bass. From there, the setlist mirrored LCD’s other shows so far this tour, following “Drunk Girls” with “Get Innocuous,” “Yr City’s A Sucker,” the popular “Daft Punk is Playing at My House,” “I Can Change,” “All My Friends,” “You Wanted a Hit,” “Tribulations,” the punk-laden “Movements,” and an extended “Yeah” to close the set that featured an energy-erupting jam at the end and very likely the thickest synths ever heard in the Leatherstocking region of Upstate New York.

The encore started with a tease of “Someone Great,” which was listed on the setlist but quickly morphed into a loud, lyrically clever, bass-driven “Losing My Edge.” Unfortunately in a live setting the punk accents drown out the lyrics, but as long as Murphy keeps the attitude intact the song works fine, and James Murphy has plenty of attitude. The encore ended with a similarly bassy, triumphant “Home,” with the band bathed in thick white haze, ending the evening on a ethereal, optimistic note.

The biggest fear I have about college-hosted shows is the band holding back and saving their true efforts for shows open to the public, but LCD Soundsystem eased my fears immediately. Murphy and Co. don’t seem like they’re capable of giving less than their all, living and becoming their live show whenever they take the stage. Very few bands have the virtuosity and vision of LCD, and after last night, I don’t think I’ll ever see another frontman who cares as much as James Murphy.

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