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Keeping his edge

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When James Murphy of LCD Soundsystem announced that his Madison Square Garden concert on April 2 would be the band's final performance, it set off a wave of scrambling. The show sold out in something like eight minutes. Acknowledging the weighty circumstances, Murphy requested that audience members wear black, white or a combination thereof. The final show would be epic in scale, with five sets, a bevy of guest players and all the songs a devoted fan could desire.

Why would a band that's achieved all you could ask for—an ever-growing fan base of discerning, plugged-in aficionados of rock, pop and dance music; critical acclaim; and the luxury of being able to move in pretty much any musical direction—choose to call it a day at the height of its powers? The usual reasons a band breaks up tend to involve egos, internecine warfare and/or drugs. Or they outstay their welcome and peter out due to declining popularity. What LCD Soundsystem was "supposed" to do was to keep touring and recording until the bottom fell out. Murphy had the self-awareness to realize that there were other things he wanted to do and the strength to act on that belief. It's pretty clear that Murphy could grow very rich with his current job. A full-on "farewell tour" would surely have been highly lucrative. But, no, this was just a show.

Since LCD Soundsystem's music is often based on a minimal, repetitive bass line, emphatic percussion and Murphy's vocals—sometimes full-throated, sometimes half- or all-spoken—it doesn't necessarily follow that the tunes would lend themselves to the full-band, later-era Talking Heads type approach, but it worked beautifully. There were two drummers, two guitarists, keyboards, synth, a white-robed choir, a five-piece horn section, all deployed with expert timing and precision. It didn't sound cluttered, just huge and all-encompassing. And the crowd was as sincerely enthralled as an arena full of hip New York music fans can be. People stood and danced throughout the show's four hours, clouds of quality cannabis wafting in every direction. They cheered the builds. They cheered the releases.

Through it all, Murphy was the star, the master of ceremonies in a black dinner jacket. He led the ensemble with controlled abandon, singing with passion, holding nothing back, taking a few licks on one of his players' timbales or crash cymbal and doing the occasional stutter-step dance, as if knocked back by the force of it all. When he addressed the crowd, he was charmingly down-to-earth.

It wasn't hard to foresee how it would end. "Losing My Edge," an audacious provocation and LCD's first single, anchored the first encore. Although it was occasionally hard to hear the litany of seminal acts mentioned in the song, the people around me enunciated with admirable automaticity—"I heard that you have a white label of every seminal Detroit techno hit—1985, '86, '87." After a smoldering take on Nilsson's "Jump Into the Fire," the show ended with "New York, I Love You But You're Bringing Me Down," which was ideal not only for its lyrical sentiment but for how it related to the moment in question, the reasons for the end. You can love something, Murphy said, and have it bring you down, too.

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