w/M.I.A. and Diplo
Wed May 11, Showbox, 8 pm, $18.50, 21+.
James Murphy is a Svengali. He can be pedantic and particular, at times even difficult. Yet this 35-year-old, who looks like he just rolled out of bed (and sometimes like a missing member of the Heaven's Gate cult), is totally lovable. He's the perfect indie pop star for 2005: a shambolic music nerd who throws the best parties, runs the coolest record label, and makes radically referential tunes (which please record-store clerks and dance floors alike). More than that, he understands irony so well he could write the dictionary definition.
Irony kick-started Murphy's career. In 2002, Murphy's relatively unknown one-man band, LCD Soundsystem, released a 12-inch single called "Losing My Edge" on then little-known label DFA Records. Told from the perspective of a jaded, bitter club DJ, the track namechecks Suicide, Sun Ra, and Jamaican soundclashes, and features barbs like, "I'm losing my edge, to better looking people with better ideas and more talent" and "I used to work in a record store/I had everything before everyone." "Losing My Edge" became a meta-narrative for the narrowing gap between the dance and rock scenes, a soundtrack for post-everything people who laughed at the narrator's fear of losing hipster cred while secretly identifying with it. The narrator was James Murphy.
With "Losing My Edge," Murphy had laid out his raison d'être as the anti-hero of the '00s. He would undo rock's mythology while creating a world where gay disco, '70s punk funk, and Morrissey could all be musically referenced in one song.
Of course, Murphy came to the table prepared for the mission. Raised in a "faceless suburban town" in New Jersey, Murphy has been an obsessive music fan since his preteens and is a veteran of numerous '90s indie rock bands. Prior to producing his own stuff as LCD Soundsystem, he had thrown a series of legendary parties in New York that mixed rock with disco and everything in between. Since 1999, he has recorded bands with ex-UNKLE producer Tim Goldsworthy and put them out on their joint label DFA Records. Less a label than a production powerhouse, DFA turned little-known New York garage outfit the Rapture into a swirling, funky, cowbell-and-sax-propelled punk-funk juggernaut of a band. (He and Goldsworthy have subsequently "created" Delia Gonzalez & Gavin Russom, an art rock-meets-electronic duo that makes psychedelic B-movie soundtracks, and the Juan Maclean, an electro project from Six Finger Satellite's John Maclean.)
DFA releases allowed the world a glimpse of Murphy's precise musical vision, but with the February release of his self-titled debut as LCD Soundsystem--and the intense touring that's followed-- Murphy has laid himself bare. The album is unsurprisingly an amalgam of influences from the Beatles to Daft Punk, but it's LCD's live show that really encapsulates his approach. Leading a five-piece band, Murphy resolutely refuses to play the rock-star part--he basically looks and acts exactly like the guy behind the counter at your local indie record shop, no matter if he's singing the lyrics to searing electro number "Tribulations" or banging on portable percussion to create the backdrop for "Beat Connection."
As Murphy made the LCD record mostly on his own, he explains that his cohorts--Les Savy Fav drummer Pat Mahoney, !!! bassist Tyler Pope, guitarist Phil Mossman, and friend Nancy Whang (playing keyboards for the first time)--are more like session musicians. "I wanted to be kind of naive sounding, and we talked about it," he says. "I was like, 'I kind of just want this to be like a cover band and I'm the singer guy, so I'm going to run around and be like, "No, I want it to sound more like this."'"
And, in the interests of keeping things real, the LCD show is a pretty straightforward reiteration of the record live. "The shows are always different to me," says Murphy, "but we're not like the Grateful Dead, like, 'Stretch out the jams, take people on a journey.' There's no jamming; god, I'd shoot myself."
The live show is no less exciting for not reinventing the record. Murphy ensures things sound good by teching the monitors and tuning his guitars himself; he can often be seen before the show running around and setting up the gear. It's interesting to attend a rock show that attempts to strip itself of mystique. Since there's little to watch onstage, people dance a lot more (Murphy's applied his party-throwing experience to this part of LCD's live approach).
Still, Murphy's not quite satisfied. His deepest wish is for the audience to experience LCD Soundsystem with the immediacy and primal power you can only get from a free backyard show or a Brooklyn warehouse party. "I've never seen a big show that I thought was awesome, ever," states Murphy. "The bigger we get, the harder it is to do anything of real interest--anything unusual, anything that feels like it happened that day."
Murphy talks about fighting with label people, booking agents, and venues. Case in point: "I have a requirement that you can't put up a barricade between the stage and then I show up and there's the fucking barricade. It's just really retarded and it creates this weird level of alienation. Am I supposed to look like I think people are going to rush on stage and start to tear my clothes off?"
Murphy may be extraordinarily open-minded, but he's still got his indie ideals; you sense he intends to be that one guy who made it big but didn't sell out for as long as he can. And if he has to argue for it, so be it. "There's a certain energy that I want and I'm willing to sacrifice a lot to get it. And it's exciting to keep fighting. That's why I started a label. I think people are more talented than they're given credit for. I think we have songwriters and performers who are as good as anything from 1968. They're just not challenged in the right way and it seems really obvious to me what a bunch of the problems are, so I'm excited to get in and fight. That's what I do all the time. That's why I'm here."