In case the connotations may have been unclear, the poster verse posed the only question worth asking on the occasion of a beloved band's reunion: zombies or saviors? "LCD Soundsystem will rise from the dead this Easter Sunday at Webster Hall," the text reads, accompanied by a black and white image featured James Murphy and the band he retired a week shy of five years ago, looking like the walking dead. Two logos graced the poster: one for the "Ritz," the name by which the 1500-capacity NYC venue was known during its 1970s and '80s heyday, a period that LCD's music often celebrates; and the other for "Panorama Presents," the AEG/Goldenvoice off-shoot inaugurating a New York music festival in July of 2016, a festival LCD Soundsystem will be headlining. The whole thing looks gothy, dark and gloomy. The answer: not at all obvious.
Which was completely not the case for the 120-or-so minutes that Murphy and his celebrated dance-rock septet performed on Sunday night at the first of two quickly announced comeback shows at a packed-to-the-gills Webster Hall. From the roar that greeted the opening "Get Innocuous" to the roar that greeted the first spotlight shine on the club's enormous disco ball during the instrumental break in "Us V Them," to the roaring sing-along that accompanied the encore-closing "All My Friends," the only discernible pouting was by the band-members when the equipment (notably the enormous synthesizer manned by Gavin Russom and Matt Thornley) did not work as intended. "This is why we have warm-up shows," said keyboardist/vocalist Nancy Whang, during the extended technical break that interrupted the second number, which was abandoned.
The fourteen-song set included no new music, but was full of tracks that created and helped sustain the LCD Soundsystem live legend. "Freak Out," from the Nike-funded mix 45:33, ostensibly intended to soundtrack work-outs, featured a two-person horn section adding a deep layer of funk; the extended drum-circle-plus-TM303 jam on the early single"Yeah" has not aged a bit; and the music-geek-heavy lyrics of the group's self-defining first single, "Losing My Edge," were augmented to include shout-outs to members of the extended DFA Records family (specifically, Tim Sweeney, who DJ'd before and after the band's performance).
If sound difficulties seemed to make the folks on-stage irritable, it certainly did not show in the performance: Whang, Russom, Thornley, guitarist Al Doyle, bassist Tyler Pope and drummer Pat Mahoney, all create an enormous rhythmic racket, by turns tight and unwound. In the years since burying LCD at the April 2011 Madison Square Garden send-off, most of the band members have continued the non-Soundsystem parts of their music careers — Whang as the vocalist in The Juan Maclean, Mahoney as one-half of the disco-house duo Museum of Love, Doyle as a member of Hot Chip, Thornley and Pope assisting Russom's psychedelic disco fantasia band, The Crystal Ark, one of the synth-man's numerous projects. And though none had the commercial or the critical pull of Murphy's band, they along with Sweeney and other members of the DFA roster are a cornerstone of what remains a vibrant New York music community. Which is why a return to LCD does not just spell the revival of a treasured group, but a reunion of a weird congregation of city people creating a particular kind of NYC energy, the kind of event where comic actor Aziz Asnari and gallerist/curator Jeffrey Deitch could both pass by unnoticed (almost) and flail around to the techno rhythms un-apologetically.
When it did work, the handcrafted modular synthesizer at the heart of the LCD's new operation pulsed with wondrous drones, giving the band enormous uplift, keeping the hands in the air moving, and the glow-sticks flying continually through the crowd. Another reminder that electronic equipment can be fixed, but successfully bringing back the dead is alchemy practiced by only a few.
Setlist: Get Innocuous / Daft Punk Is Playing At My House / Us V Them / You Wanted a Hit / Tribulations / Freak Out / Movement / Yeah / Someone Great / Losing My Edge / Home / New York, I Love You But You're Bringing Me Down Encores: Dance Yrself Clean / All My Friends