Madison Square Garden -- not exactly your uncle's backyard when it comes to legacies to live up to. On countless nights MSG has risen to the center of the city that is the center of the universe‚ and it was gonna take a lot more than a bunch of drunk scenesters from Brooklyn throwing a farewell dance-party to be able to find a place in the Garden's books. That is‚ unless they were LCD Soundsystem and they just so would happen to throw down one of the most legendary room shakers in the building's history. Yes‚ James Murphy and LCD positively squashed all qualms last Saturday night‚ and from 9 PM til1 in the morning‚ they honestly held the life-force of New York City in the palm of their hands as they played possibly the greatest last show in the history of last shows. And yes‚ I've heard of The Band.
With the entire crowd dressed to the nines (the band had requested black-and-white attire only), and in full celebratory mode‚ there was a full-on New Year's Eve vibe in the air; the night would conclude with a balloon drop and at one point front-man James Murphy told the crowd: "It's like New Year's Eve‚ but after New Years we're dead." The obvious and necessary opener of "Dance Yrself Clean" started things off with sudden new connotations of baptism‚ rebirth‚ and transcendence -- a ceremonial expunging of past sin as we all embraced in a collective‚ blissful crucifixion. Or not. Either way when the full band kicked in 4 minutes into the song‚ the crowd erupted in a ferocious bounce that wouldn't stop for a solid 4 hours. The first set then moved through a few shorter poppier tunes before really opening up on the dark groove of "Get Innocuous!" This one has always reminded me of "Big Business" or some of those other Remain in Light era Talking Heads songs. And while a passing lamentation struck me on the similarities between LCD's and the T-Head's retirements‚ Byrne and company never played to a crowd like this -- a crowd of 15‚000 extroverted party nerds with 40-plus years of NYC dance parties to live up to. Although‚ they should play to a crowd like this‚ but anyway… The set would close out with a brilliant last take on "All My Friends" and a thoroughly angst releasing thrash on "Tired."
And then came Set Two‚ a set that will hold a piece of my soul eternally. Running through the entirety of Murphy's Nike running project‚ 45:33‚ the band grooved in a pocket that had the entire Garden cupped in the balls (pardon my French). When the beat finally subsided and I wiped the sweat from my eyes‚ flashes of the past 45 minutes struck me in overbearing joy: Reggie Watts wearing a giant "FU" t-shirt and positively crushing the vocals on "45:33(II)‚" the all male‚ glitter-donned choir nailing the sudden jump into "Sound of Silver‚" the horn section owning the Tower of Power licks in "45:33(IV)‚" and my feet levitating 2 inches off the ground during the whole thing. The "Freak Out/Starry Eyes" closer bumped steady and featured one of the many times over the evening when the lyrics transcended the moment: "If you do it again‚ I'm gonna freak out/So do it again!"
When the band walked off the stage for a 2nd set-break‚ it became clear that they were more than willing to eat the Union fines and play well past the MSG midnight curfew. In the brilliantly vicious goodbye set that would follow‚ time became irrelevant anyway. "Us and Them" opened and kicked everyone's inebriations into full gear‚ including‚ if not especially Murphy. Arcade Fire then came out to supply backing vocals on the first "North American Scum" the band had busted in several years. But at the greatest wake in history‚ the Grammy winners' appearance was but a footnote in a night of musical extravagance. Let's see…what else? "Movement" was fucking enormous‚ and it felt like watching The Who with The Sex Pistols sitting in. And in case you don't know‚ sometimes punching your friend's shoulder really hard is just the perfect thing to do at a rock concert. All brotherly masochism aside though‚ when "Yeah" started up‚ any chance of denying the throb of the hive was fully abandoned. It was everything you imagine all-out abandon to look like from a crowd. The song wound down into an ambient-synth-feedback-thing as it has been doing at their live shows‚ but this night it was enormous -- take your breath away‚ mother-ship landing enormous. And it's evolution into the starting pulse of "Someone Great" was what everybody was waiting for‚ whether they knew it or not. I was worried that my favorite track might sound a little pretentious this night -- it's hard to not think that when a band playing their final show sings: "And it keeps coming til the day it stops…When someone great is gone." Yet rather‚ it was magical. Supported by one of the deepest beats of the past decade‚ Murphy's screams were sincere. Instead of delving into some egotistical cry of self-importance‚ his voice harkened the need to celebrate and embrace music when it's in its prime‚ and it was a sense of mourning for great bands that disappear without being able to have a goodbye like this.
The segue into "Losing My Edge" felt like being on the cusp of overwhelming blissful relevance. When James came to the line about turning the rock kids onto Daft Punk‚ they busted the infamous melody from the duo's "Da Funk" and the place positively lost it. It just made all too much sense. Over the ending vamp‚ he beautifully‚ changed the lyrics: "We could do this for another hour/I paid for it‚ so why not?" On the subsequent "Home‚" it seemed like he really wanted to. His voice began to crackle a little more than usual -- half from the alcohol‚ and half from the realization that he was entering the last moments of his band. The big screens showed nothing during this song but the view from an airplane window eventually approaching JFK. It was beautiful‚ and poignant‚ and but a step closer into Murphy's open stream of emotions.
With three songs left‚ I was hoping for a dark "Yr City's a Sucker" but instead got "All I Want." It was my first disagreement in song choice of the night -- just seemed a little too closing credits-ish to me‚ but who the fuck am I to complain. Then the band further showed their desire to do things their own way by raging a cover of Harry Nilsson's "Jump Into the Fire." You know it; it's the song playing towards the end of Goodfellas when Henry first starts to see the helicopter. Either way‚ the crowd was initially confused‚ but then everybody remembered that they didn't really need to care what song it was and the party continued. After that‚ everyone and their mother knew that "New York‚ I Love You" was gonna close the show‚ but it didn't make it any less awesome. Murphy gave an extended intro while the band vamped on the Twin Peaks soundtrack -- pointing out his family's killer seats‚ and lavishing thanks on the audience. When the song finally kicked in‚ he couldn't keep his tears out of his vocals‚ and in a weird way it validated the idea that you were rooting for the right guy the whole time. As the balloons fell during the final hits‚ he walked off the stage solemnly and quietly. It's a tough decision to stop a band in its prime‚ but the right one when you know that you've gone as far as you want to go. Sure‚ they could keep going and make a bunch more money‚ and sure there might be a reunion show in 7 years‚ but those things are irrelevant. This night was a celebration -- a truly epic swan song‚ and all that mattered to everyone walking out of the building that night was the overwhelming joy of always being able to say‚ "I was there."