Three albums apiece, each of which is critically acclaimed. Two bands, both strongly representative of everything that’s right in modern dance music. One night, with one mirrored disco ball hanging overhead. This is the setup for one of the biggest double bills of the year, and if you’ve caught Hot Chip and LCD Soundsystem on this tour prior to now, consider yourselves very lucky. They made their way to the Aragon Ballroom in Chicago on Monday night for a show that sold out so fast they added a second date tonight at the smaller Riviera (for which a limited number of tickets are still available). Both artists had already stopped in the Windy City earlier this year, with LCD Soundsystem headlining a night of the Pitchfork Music Festival and Hot Chip putting on an early evening set at Lollapalooza, but naturally, the thought of seeing these bands outside of an outdoor festival setting was more than enough to draw plenty of people in. So on a surprisingly balmy October evening that many might regard as the “calm before the storm” given the severe weather that has now struck the city, a massive crowd strapped on their dancing shoes ready for a hot and sweaty party.
As the opening band, Hot Chip was only given an hour for their set, which apparently had to be carefully timed due to somewhat strict curfew laws regarding weeknight 18+ shows. It’s a good thing they made the most of that time, blasting through songs at a remarkably fast pace while working to maximize the BPMs and keep bodies moving. Starting with “And I Was A Boy From School” was a smart move given it’s one of the strongest songs in their catalogue and is just barely quick enough to rev up the crowd for what’s to come. As one might expect, the set leaned heavily on their latest album “One Life Stand”, and about half the songs they played were from it. Earlier this year I lamented the lack of dance floor hits on that record, but the band brought new life to those songs and proved they can work just as well as the older material. So when the song “One Life Stand” was surrounded by “One Pure Thought” and “Over and Over”, there wasn’t a noticeable difference in quality, and the same goes for the 1-2-3 punch of “Shake A Fist”, “I Feel Better” and “Ready for the Floor” to close things out. It’s been three years and two albums since I last saw Hot Chip perform, and in that time they’ve only improved as a live act. The songs are tighter than ever and there’s rarely a moment when somebody doesn’t have an instrument in hand, be it a guitar, keyboard or tambourine. If that wasn’t enough to get feet shuffling, there was also Alex Taylor’s odd dancing on stage, which tends to look a lot like he’s jogging in place. He’s not exactly your stereotypical rock star, but then again neither is James Murphy of LCD Soundsystem.
So with the crowd completely warmed up both figuratively and literally, a plaid-clad, scruffy-looking Murphy came out with his band as they launched straight into “This Is Happening” opener “Dance Yrself Clean”. The song itself is a carefully considered exercise in restraint, slowly bubbling up under more intense heat until finally exploding under the pressure. As soon as that dam burst open, the entire Aragon went nuts in the best way possible. Limbs flailed, fists pumped, and the stage lighting added an extra dose of bliss to the entire thing. Moving from that into the single “Drunk Girls” only slammed things harder and everyone that knew the words sang along at the top of their lungs. If those early highlights weren’t enough, the rendition of “Get Innocuous” built to a startlingly intense conclusion that had Murphy attacking a pair of snare drums like they had just threatened his life. The guy has taken less of a role on stage fiddling around with instruments and electronic elements in order to focus on his vocals, but it was moments like when he went nuts on the drums that really stood out in a show filled with stand out moments. The triple combo of “Daft Punk Is Playing At My House”, “I Can Change” and “All My Friends” works well together, which is seemingly why they’re on every set list that way. It was during “All My Friends” though that the notoriously poor sound at the Aragon actually struck for a couple minutes, as the song headed towards its conclusion the mix got progressively muddier to the point where the entire thing was one big white noise mess, vocals included. There was only one other moment like that during the set, and that was for the intensely loud “Movement”, where the guitars rip through the head banging chorus. Outside of those two briefly annoying audio blunders, the rest of the show was surprisingly glitch-free. LCD Soundsystem chose to close their set with “Yeah”, another slow burner that builds until Murphy is screaming at the top of his lungs in dramatic and exciting fashion. And because the lyrics basically consist of repeating the song title over and over again, everyone started to yell in between jumping around like crazy. It was a pretty perfect way to wrap up the night, and had there not been an encore most everyone would have walked away satisfied. Not that the encore took away the intense feeling of satisfaction, but the band did play three songs that aren’t the most dance intensive in their catalogue. Still, songs like “Someone Great” and “Losing My Edge” are classics, so it remains a delight each time they’re played. And as a bit of a change up, the band is choosing to close out most encores on this tour with the song “Home” rather than the previous staple “New York I Love You But You’re Bringing Me Down”. The positive to that is that “Home” is a more upbeat song with a relatively healthy beat that may not inspire dancing but feels less like the band is going gently into the night. So as each band member exited the stage with a wave or a bow, the stage lights shut down one by one until just the mirrored disco ball overhead spun and the last few beats of the song faded away.
James Murphy has gone on record saying that he plans to “retire” the LCD Soundsystem moniker once he’s done touring to support the latest album “This Is Happening”. Well, that doesn’t necessarily mean there won’t be another LCD Soundsystem album or a handful of singles, really for all intensive purposes he means that he doesn’t want to have to tour anymore. Depending on who you talk to, that means this Aragon show could have been one of the band’s final two dates in Chicago. Of course since this isn’t being billed as a “farewell tour” and there’s talk of the band playing dates until next summer before officially calling it quits, there’s a high likelihood LCD Soundsystem will be back through at least once more in 2011. That is a great thing, because for a supposed “old man” and non-rock star, Murphy and his band put on a show that’s not only top notch, but seems to get better with age. The jumps in live show quality between 2007 and earlier this summer when the band headlined the Pitchfork Music Festival were huge, and even in the 3 months since then they’ve strengthened even further. If you love this music, along with an occasional dance party, you owe it to yourself to see LCD Soundsystem at least one more time before it’s all over. Given that they’re currently touring with Hot Chip that’s an added incentive to go see the show. Together they make up what’s probably the best double bill of 2010 with what just might be the best live show of 2010 as well. To my fellow Chicagoans, if you’re reading this in time, drop your plans for tonight and go see these two bands at the Riviera. Everyone else, I wish you the best of luck with tickets to a show near you if there is one. The main purpose of going to see these bands might very well be to have a great time dancing and rubbing up against other hot and sweaty bodies, but it’s also important to note that there’s a deep well of emotion hiding just beneath the music’s glossy surface and intense light show. Even if you’re the kind of laid back person that refuses to do anything more than simply tap a toe to the beat, this show has more than its fair share of wonderful moments for you as well. Let’s hope this whole retirement thing is just a momentary lapse in judgment.
Buy Hot Chip’s “One Life Stand” from Amazon
Buy LCD Soundsystem’s “This Is Happening” from Amazon
LCD Soundsystem Set List:
Dance Yrself Clean
Daft Punk Is Playing At My House
I Can Change
All My Friends
You Wanted A Hit
Losing My Edge