April 16, 2016


I Loved LCD Soundsystem at Coachella, But The Crowd Was Bringing Me Down

Kevin Winter / Getty Images
Kevin Winter / Getty Images

I'm not ashamed to admit it: I was wrong about LCD Soundsystem's headlining performance at Coachella. Well, half-wrong, at least. So, in a way, I was half-right, too.

You see, I'm a card-carrying LCD Soundsystem hater. I've long found their sound derivative and lyrics preening, their legacy overhyped and influence overstated. Their farewell run in 2011 felt mawkish back then, and their return exactly five years later appears extremely calculated. They have some very good songs ("Daft Punk Is Playing at My House," "I Can Change," "Movement") and some very embarrassing songs ("North American Scum," "Drunk Girls"). As for James Murphy... look, he seems like a perfectly interesting fellow, but I've never been entranced by his grizzled mystique.

When LCD announced its official comeback in January, I wasn't shocked; when multiple major festivals booked the band as a headliner for this summer, however, I was floored. LCD Soundsystem, headlining not just Coachella (a fest known for taking chances on indie-leaning headliners) but also Bonnaroo, Lollapalooza and Outside Lands, among others? My personal hater-ation aside, I had no idea how this niche group with zero radio hits and zero big-selling albums was going to attract enough of an audience at each of these festivals to justify being called a headliner. I felt like I was missing something, and doubted that Coachella was going to provide a clear answer.

I was more than prepared to be unimpressed by LCD Soundsystem and its miniscule crowd on Friday night (Apr. 15), but then, something strange happened: LCD Soundsystem was really, truly great. As in, possibly the best band of the whole day, which is what a headliner should be. I couldn't believe how quickly Murphy won me over at Coachella; by the end of the set, I was hoping that they'd squeeze one more in after the set-capping "All My Friends," instead of plotting to beat traffic.

So how'd they do it? By playing a really tight set with no holes. There was nothing precious or cloying about LCD's Coachella performance, just a lot of pinpoint percussion work, seamless song transitions and damn funky bass grooves. "Get Innocuous" proved to be dark and muscular in a way I had never experienced; "Tribulations" fully bloomed when its synth riffs congealed. The trifecta of "Yeah," "Someone Great" and "Losing My Edge" made each extended track feel worthy of the Pitchfork praise. And, yeah, they covered a David Bowie song ("Heroes"), and Murphy absolutely crushed it.

Yet the part I was right about was the part about LCD Soundsystem's attendance. Pitted against more current acts like Jack U and Rae Sremmurd on Friday night, LCD garnered the smallest Coachella headliner crowd since the Stone Roses' baffling set in 2013. 

There were hundreds of hardcore fans, to be sure, but the non-diehards started wandering off after the first 45 minutes, and the crowd was siphoning off steadily from then on. By the time the opening piano notes of "All My Friends" were played, LCD Soundsystem's audience had been dwarfed by Jack U's crowd. And LCD Soundsystem didn't have Kanye West to tout!

If LCD struggled to pull a crowd at Coachella, their prospects at more populist festivals--and later in the summer, when the new-car smell of their reunion has dissipated--don't look great. But Coachella also proved that their live show is worth witnessing and appreciating, even for those previously uninterested in their albums, aura or entire being. I came into Coachella loathing LCD Soundsystem; I left it feeling sorry for the people that didn't see them. Rooting for this band still feels a little dirty to me, but on Friday night, I danced myself clean.