Everybody loves a comeback story, but maybe no one loves it more than Hollywood. It’s a town where you can be caught lofting anti-Semitic slurs in one moment and cheered for an Academy Award nomination the next. It’s a place that could tattoo the sentiment “absence makes the heart grow fonder” in tiny script on its chest, a place where the curtain never quite falls for good, where even the deceased could be resurrected to dance with a vacuum cleaner during the Super Bowl.
James Murphy and his band LCD Soundsystem didn’t really leave the public eye in anywhere near the same level of controversy as someone like Mel Gibson, but their retirement and rebirth within the span of five years did catch the ire of some fans, enough so that Murphy felt the need to apologize to anyone that felt taken advantage of or mislead. In a long statement posted upon confirmation of the first reunion shows in January of 2016, Murphy spoke directly to those that felt most betrayed:
“i’m seriously sorry. the only thing we can do now is get back into the studio and finish this record, and make it as fucking good as we can possibly make it. it needs to be better than anything we’ve done before, in my mind, because it won’t have the help of being the first time. and we have to play better than we’ve ever played, frankly. every show has to be better than the best show we’ve played before for anyone to even say ‘well, that was good. i mean, not as good as they used to be. but, you know. it was good.’ we know all that. which is healthy for us, because it means we go back to war, like in the beginning. for us it was always war, but now it’s really with ourselves. maybe we have a chance to make it right.”
But now that it has been a full two years since the NYC indie electronic legends returned to headline Coachella, the circumstances for their reunion feels like ancient history. The band has headlined virtually every major festival in the world, and between those moments, they’ve managed to record a new album of critically acclaimed (and Grammy-winning) new material in the form of last year’s American Dream and peppered in enough small venue appearances to give fans of all level the LCD experience they’ve been pining for. The almost unreasonably high expectations that the band put out there for themselves has been reached by nearly every conceivable metric. Sure, some fans might not love the new album as much a previous ones, or think the band has lost a step. But what remains important is the overwhelming majority thinks that the band remains vital and turns out in mass to support them. In short, this comeback has been an unprecedented success.
It says a lot that LCD Soundsystem can headline the Hollywood Bowl for two shows more than 24 months after their reunion. LCD shows in the Los Angeles area haven’t exactly been a rarity, and have included more than just the Coachella bows. They headlined FYF Fest the same year, performed a warmup show at the Fox Theater in Pomona, and played a residency at the Hollywood Palladium in late 2017. If you are a fan of the Brooklyn group and wanted to get out and see them, the opportunity has been there. But still, they managed to sell 16,500 tickets on Friday night and do it all over again on Saturday. And it wasn’t just the typical Bowl attendees that sit politely in their chairs with a bottle of wine they brought from home and an impressive spread of imported cheeses and meats. No, this was a dancing-in-the-aisles, calling-the-babysitter-to-stay-a-couple-extra-hours, getting-your-first-hangover-of-the year-kind of night. Murphy repeatedly called the show the biggest of the tour from the stage, and he was met with the appropriate reception.
Speaking as someone that’s seen the band more times than I can count on one hand since they’ve returned, I can say that this is one reunion that’s not wearing out its welcome. I keep thinking back to the Pavement reunion of 2010, and how over the course of just one calendar year, a feverish anticipation turned into a disappointingly attended penultimate show at the Hollywood Bowl, opened by Sonic Youth of all people. Reunions lose their value quicker than new Hondas the second after you drive them off the lot, but by sticking to their promises, LCD Soundsystem has managed to avoid this. A year after reuniting, they made their first appearance on Saturday Night Live, which had long been a dream for Murphy and his crew. Months later, they finally won a Grammy after a decade’s worth of nominations and losses. The trajectory of the band has remained on the upswing thanks to a determination to cover new ground and a refusal to rest on their laurels.
Even on this night, Murphy joked after the band performed “How Do You Sleep?” for the first time ever that they saved trying debuting their hardest song for the biggest show of the tour. Murphy and his band are still pushing themselves into uncomfortable territory and keeping things fresh. Other songs from their recent album, notably “Tonite” and “Emotional Haircut,” burned with urgency and managed to overshadow even some of the more beloved tracks that were peppered into the setlist. And when you are able to close a show with a run of “Dance Yrself Clean,” “All My Friends,” and “New York, I Love You But You’re Bringing Me Down,” you’re going to have a lot of people skipping their way to their car with a big goofy smile on their face.
And, in an act that felt equally brave and generous, LCD brought along the Yeah Yeah Yeahs to support them. Though the show was billed as LCD Soundsystem vs. Yeah Yeah Yeahs, there was no doubt who the headliner was (LCD played a significantly longer set) or who people were there to see. But, Yeah Yeah Yeahs are one of the best live bands on the planet, and having them play before LCD was a bar-raising that most other bands couldn’t compete with. YYY’s have songs that are better known to the common music listener, and Karen O’s charisma has not wavered even as the years since her band’s creative peak fades in the distance. If this truly was a battle on an even playing field, Yeah Yeah Yeahs would be tough for anyone to beat. But on LCD’s turf, no one can overshadow them.
LCD Soundsystem’s comeback story feels like it has come to an end. Once again the band simply exists as a thriving force, undoubtedly wise enough to eventually end the support of American Dream with a less ostentatious bow. Like a normal band, they’ll hopefully slink into the shadows, take a year off or five, and eventually come back when the songs in James Murphy’s head become so loud that they need to be shared. For a band that has coined so many catchphrases for which writers can easily end an article (“This is happening!” “That’s how it starts!” “Dance yourself clean!” “Something about ‘losing my edge!'”), the band will be best served to follow their own advice and “get innocuous.” They’ve reached the position where they can own their fans’ adoration and respect without needing to rely on over-the-top gestures. They can just be the great band that they are. They’ve earned it.