Sensory Overload

Musical Musings: Arcade Fire and LCD Soundsystem

Posted by Chris DeVille | October 08, 2007 12:19 PM

I'm probably the only person who's going to tell you this, but I'm right: LCD Soundsystem was the best band on stage Friday at LC Pavilion.

No offense to Arcade Fire (pictured), who put on quite the display themselves, but James Murphy's band of Brooklyn disco-house punks stole the show without half the Canadians' fanfare.

Call me jaded, but the monstrous Montreal outfit didn't tingle the spine quite like in 2004, when I caught them at a CMJ showcase and at Cincinnati's Southgate House. Throw in the fact that I was an LCD virgin going into the night, and, as has been well documented, I'm obsessed with the band's Sound of Silver, and it's no surprise that I liked them better than Arcade Fire. But I'm still right.

Both bands sounded huge up there, and both played a crowd-pleasing set of much-loved tracks from their first two albums. So what pushed LCD over the top while Arcade Fire remained merely solid?

LCD's got soul.

Though it might not sound like it on first listen, Murphy's music is embedded with as much emotional weight as his tourmates' tortured hymns. Hundreds of rock critics have weighed in on the feelings behind ballads "All My Friends" and "Someone Great," and even the snarky, repetitive "Yeah" communicates a heartfelt frustration that "Everybody keeps on talking about it/ Nobody's getting it done."

Murphy's tracks combine that resonance with the celebratory spunk of dance music and the gloriously irreverent sneer of punk. There's outrage, laughter, nostalgia and sorrow in the mix. It's the sound of real life, and it's presented in irrepressibly fun, body-moving fashion.

That combination played out beautifully Friday night. After a flurry of upbeat numbers, including an ecstatic rendition of "North American Scum" aided by background vocals by Arcade Fire's Butler brothers, the evening reached an early climax just as the sun disappeared. The most transcendent single of 2007, LCD's "All My Friends," became perhaps the most magical musical moment on stage when Murphy unleashed it five songs into his 60-minute set. The song's incessant, two-chord build-up reached its bittersweet peak as Murphy belted out, "Where are your friends tonight?"

I feared the set would have nowhere to go but down, and the immediate jump to "Someone Great" did prove to be a bit of a downer. Something like "Watch the Tapes" or, if he was looking for a slower number, "Losing My Edge" would have been better. But soon the show picked up again with rousing renditions of "Tribulations," "Movement" and the absurd, wonderful "Yeah". In the wake of all that noise, "New York I Love You" was a fitting comedown.

Arcade Fire's music is, no doubt, heartfelt as well. The group bared its collective soul (heh) song after song Friday, often acquitting the new Neon Bible in the process. I had developed a disdain for the record, and while songs such as "Black Mirror", "Keep the Car Running" and "Ocean of Noise" were rather underwhelming, the band found success with "(Antichrist Television Blues)", "The Well and the Lighthouse", "No Cars Go" and especially "Intervention".

But it was, unsurprisingly, the songs from debut Funeral that carried the show. "Laika", slipped early into the set, lacked the emphasis the song has carried in the past, when Richard Reed Parry and Tim Kingsbury would careen into each other with crash helmets and drum sticks. But "Haiti" shined, and the ending stretch that included "Tunnels", "Power Out", "Rebellion (Lies)" and "Wake Up" was Arcade Fire's finest moment.

Although it took a while for the mix to sound just right (or at least for my ears to adjust), the band made the most of its expanded lineup, employing the typical rock instruments plus a massive organ and horns and strings galore. It all contributed to the pomp and circumstance that is Arcade Fire's bread and butter.

Win Butler's songs seem to carry the weight of the world, Bono-style. More often than not, this works for the band. But the forced catharsis wears thin when the songwriting isn't strong enough to support it; even with the perfect setlist, the shtick could become wearisome. Ironically, on such a big stage, it was earnest Arcade Fire, and not tongue-in-cheek LCD, that sometimes felt distant.

Don't get me wrong; Arcade Fire makes moving music. But LCD Soundsystem makes moving music that makes you move. Ceremony is nice for a while, but at some point, you just want to dance.