A few weeks back, my good friends in LCD Soundsystem threw me a birthday party. Okay, so maybe that wasn’t the intention when they booked their Chicago tour date on my birthday, but I turned it into a birthday party anyways with 4,500 of my closest friends. In my review of the show, which was double billed with Hot Chip opening, I pretty much called it the best show I’d seen in 2010. That’s an endorsement you can take to the bank. It marked the second time I saw LCD Soundsystem within a 6 month period, and over the course of three records they have become an extremely tight knit live force to be reckoned with. There are few bands I can recommend more these days. Naturally then, interest in an LCD Soundsystem live album should be met with a nearly equal sense of enthusiasm. Even if you can’t afford a ticket to see James Murphy and his merry band of misfits perform in a city near you, at least you can get a recorded document of what the show is like. So we have the “London Sessions”, a live record available now on iTunes that was recorded this past June at Pool/Miloco studios in South London, shortly after the band’s performance at Glastonbury.
Yes, there is a certain visual component that goes into your LCD Soundsystem live show that can only be rendered on DVD, but the audio benefits alone would seem to make a live album worthwhile. The band tends to throw a little extra into their sets, carefully planning and arranging them for the best transitional effect. Each individual album is sequenced so carefully, but when you perform, you need to put on a catalogue-spanning set. There’s a reason why the LCD Soundsystem set is exactly the same for almost every single show, and it’s for maximum effect. “London Sessions” unfortunately doesn’t feature that exact set that they’ve been doing these last few months. There’s nothing in the way of transitions here, as every song is neatly capped on both ends. The songs are spread pretty smartly across the band’s albums, with special emphasis on their latest, “This Is Happening”. In the form of an extra special treat, the live record closes with the rarity “Yr City’s A Sucker”, something that few crowds have had the privilege of bearing witness to. If there was ever a time to do it, when you’re being recorded is probably one of them.
So we have the singular issue that plagues these “London Sessions”, and that is the use of a recording studio. In most situations, you get a live album from a band that has been pristinely recorded via the soundboard at a show they played, and while it often sounds good, depending on the situation the crowd noise or overly loud singalongs can get a bit bothersome. That’s the issue with legitimate live albums, though all that stuff goes ignored when you’re right there in the crowd with everyone else. The benefits of playing your songs live in a studio are mostly in audio fidelity form, and LCD Soundsystem’s songs are pretty pristine for these “London Sessions”. It’s very possible they did multiple takes of each song and only chose the ones they liked best. It also stands to reason that though they’re noisy, crowds serve a huge purpose when it comes to pushing a performance on stage. People go to shows to get amped up over live performances of their favorites. Bands play live shows not just for the cash, but because of the love and passion their fans give back to them. This exchange of energy tends to take almost every live performance up a notch. You may be recording your songs 100% live and using no samples in a studio, but without that screaming, singing along and relentless applause, there’s just a little bit of edge missing. The “London Sessions” come remarkably close to capturing exactly what you’d see were you to actively attend an LCD Soundsystem show, but subtract that audience and a certain vitality or the mere possibility of everything going completely off the tracks gets taken away too.
The value, or the real reason why “London Sessions” is important enough for you to purchase is that you’re offered a different perspective on LCD Soundsystem than you get from their records. When the rhythm section goes completely nuts in an extended jam session at the end of the live version of “Get Innocuous!”, that’s something you can’t get on the original “Sound of Silver” version. The funkier and guitar dominant live rendition of “Daft Punk Is Playing At My House” shows just how much careful sampling went into the final album cut. The grand point is that the small little changes that happen between non-live and live editions of songs provide new insights into things you’re already familiar with from one angle or another. Given LCD Soundsystem’s prowess as a live act, this takes on additional importance. The conditions may not be ideal, but they’re about as close as you’ll get from this band. Of course after all this waxing poetic on the virtues/drawbacks of this “London Sessions” album, in the last week the band decided to make their November 10th show at Alexandra Palace in London available for purchase. That gives you the full LCD Soundsystem live audio experience, complete with crowd noise and a killer set list. Links to purchase that and the “London Sessions” are below. As James Murphy says himself in the song “Pow Pow”, there are “advantages to both (advantages! advantages!)”. Make your choice, or buy both – you’re getting quality either way. Now if only they’d do a live DVD…