As the lights went up on the Sasquatch! Music Festival main stage, James Murphy, founder, frontman, and mastermind of LCD Soundsystem, sauntered out from the wings, sipping a glass of white wine. There’s cause to celebrate: he shared with the audience that the band finally finished their highly-anticipated new album a mere two days ago.
It wasn’t the focus of the band’s headlining performance though: instead the NYC-based group treated the sun-baked crowd to a “greatest hits” selection. Against a pixelated red and black background that looked on loan from the Kraftwerk kollection, they kicked things off with “Us V Them,” rolling seamlessly into “Daft Punk is Playing at My House.”
“We played here a few years ago, and it was one of the most fun shows we ever played,” Murphy told the audience. “We weren’t originally invited to be here,” he added, alluding to their last minute substitution when original headliner Frank Ocean had to drop out. “We cried, and then we hugged it out.”
Singing the lyrics “never change, never change, never change,” it was notable that Murphy has indeed not changed. Wearing his usual stage uniform of a t-shirt and a blazer, his lightly stubbled face beneath a spray of broom-bristle bangs, he mostly paced the stage carrying his hand-held retro-looking microphone (hello, Thunderpussy?). His rich voice resonated across the expansive lawn of The Gorge, his familiar falsetto trilling here and there.
Standing to his right was long-time collaborator, and absolute goddess, Nancy Whang, peering out from under a curtain of dark bangs, and wearing a leopard-print jumpsuit. Throughout the set, Murphy would shout out band members, and upon announcing her, the audience cheered, but not enough to his liking. “Come on, people! It’s Nancy Whang!” and the roar increased. The entire time, her cool-as-ice expression never changed (never changed never changed never changed).
There was an interesting moment as the group performed the beautiful, emotional track “Someone Great.” Audience members at the front of the crowd held up sparklers (wait, who brought sparklers and handed them out?), and in the darkness, it looked like a flock of fireflies, levitating near the stage. As Whang and Murphy sang off each other, he suddenly stopped, leaving Nancy to sing the lines solo. There’s debate as to whether he a) was overcome by emotion and was getting choked up, b) no, was literally feeling choked up, and had to cough or clear his throat, or c) maybe he got a little too comfy during his “retirement” phase and forgot the lyrics. Interestingly enough, I think the verse he stopped on was this one...
There's all the work that needs to be doneIt's late, for revisionThere's all the time and all the planningAnd songs, to be finished
...which takes on a whole new meaning with the new LP on the horizon. Whatever the reason he stopped singing at the time, he jumped back in at the repetition of “and it keeps coming, and it keeps coming…,” and it kept coming ’til the song was done.
The only new songs they shared were the two that were already released as singles earlier this month, “Call the Police” and “American Dream.” He tried to talk about the new album, and he just seemed exhausted. “The album feels like a white whale. It’s dead now, and…” — he rambled a little, explaining how he can feel a little defensive after how long and hard they’ve worked on it. Finally, he gave up trying to talk about it with an exasperated sigh, “Look, we’re in the Pacific Northwest. So, save the fucking whales.”
With Nancy gracefully poised at a piano, her bejeweled fingers gliding across the keys, Murphy brought things down with “New York I Love You,” off 2007's Sound of Silver. The background screen changed to a cheesy skyline graphic that looked on loan from a late night TV talk show. When it came to that final wail at the end, Murphy threw his head back, and just let. it. all. go. All the hard work, all the late nights in a recording studio, all the expectations, all the frustrations of perfecting these new songs seemed to escape from his lungs and dissipate into the chilly night air.
They ended the set with fan-favorites “Dance Yrself Clean” and “All My Friends,” an appropriate couplet for a music festival where everyone in the audience was doing just that with just those. “Camp safe,” he said to the audience, before he and all his friends slipped off stage into the night.
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