Spotted near the front of tonight’s show: a man in a Hot Hot Heat t-shirt. Hot Hot Heat were Canadian, but their 2003 hit “Bandages” fit right into the pocket of a sound that co-existed with New York’s Yeah Yeah Yeahs and paved the indie dance floors for what would come a little later with LCD Soundsystem.
At one point it would have been as unlikely that Hot Hot Heat would headline this venue as it would either of these two NYC mid-2000s luminaries. And the irony of this t-shirt is the type of humor on the menu during the first of two evenings co-headlined by Yeah Yeah Yeahs and LCD Soundsystem — two of the surviving acts of New York’s last great rock movement, acts who weren’t designed to survive. The scene, of course, has long since dissipated. Los Angeles boasts a large percentage of those who have made the exodus from New York. Even the Zebulon — formerly of Williamsburg — has had its original bar transported to Silver Lake, its new home.
LCD frontman James Murphy acknowledges the history. “Hi everybody. Hi hi!” he says, channeling the curious David Byrne. “We’ve never played with the Yeah Yeah Yeahs before tonight, which is f—ing stupid ’cause we know each other.” Karen O of Yeah Yeah Yeahs is equally respectful of the moment (in her own mic-eating, leg-splitting way), noting that it’s taken her band almost two decades to achieve the billing at this spot. “Tonight is the night!” she screeches, like Gene Simmons. “It’s a dream to play the Hollywood Bowl and it was so worth the 18 years to get here.” She changes into her second of many outfits, a studded leather jacket, and launches into the “So you get your leather-leather-leather on” of “Zero” by way of celebration.
Murphy’s comments, as well meaning as they are, are also baloney. Yes, it may be “fucking stupid” that LCD and Yeah Yeah Yeahs have never joined forces in the light of now, but as is hinted by the event posters for tonight (it’s LCD “vs” YYYs, not LCD “&” YYYs) their relationship back in NYC in 2005 was neither amicable nor adversary; they existed at opposite ends of the scale. LCD were more likely to have played a show with The Walkmen or (duh) The Rapture than these guys. It may not be too far a stretch to say that the nostalgia trip ignited by music journalist Lizzy Goodman’s 2017 tome Meet Me In The Bathroom (which told the story of the last great alt rock scene in New York) may have planted a seed in their collective brains.
With all that said, tonight the two complement each other exceptionally well. Both channel a nihilistic energy that’s nevertheless jubilant, thrashing through their sets (and their instruments) like they may never require them again. This has always been Karen O’s way. Before she gets to the first chorus of opening song ‘Rich’, she’s already swallowed her microphone, while bouncing onto the stage dressed like a disco-dancing tour de France cyclist wearing one protective knee pad and wraparound sunglasses. To this day, she performs like someone who never thought anyone would watch. It’s as pure as it would be were she still on the top of a bar in some Brooklyn hovel.
The Yeah Yeah Yeahs have borrowed an extra guitarist tonight. Nothing detracts from Karen’s captivating antics, though. A microphone has never know so many uses: she throws it in the air, she catches it, she whips it, she licks it, she smashes it against the floor. When not terrorizing her instrument, Karen gives the usual punk acrobatic show, offering up sideways running man moves and lateral lunges. Before “Zero” she runs offstage as the garage rock of early Yeah Yeah Yeahs segues into their dance floor-ready electronic offerings; a perfect preamble to LCD. The two may be from different musical schools, but both were born out of a resourcefulness in an impoverished art scene. They were starving for purpose, connection and culture, turning to music to feel alive.
It’s their continued hunger for performance that means neither act takes themselves seriously. Recognizing how much the drum lead of “Gold Lion” apes a certain Queen song in these surroundings, Karen requests that the crowd put their hands up, and starts singing: “We will, we will rock you!” Introducing “Maps” she offers: “This song is about love. I’d like to dedicate this song to someone you love more than life itself. I’d like to dedicate this song you loved and you lost. I’d like to dedicate this song to all the girls in the crowd. I’ve seen the future and it’s female.”
Pulling down her top and almost exposing her left breast, she takes the mic and shoves it into her heart. As they finish a ravenous “Date With The Night” they all but destroy their equipment. The wreckage isn’t a far cry from the plans LCD have to create their own amount of distortion and chaos in the name of raving.
Murphy appears in a white suit in front of full band and stacks of gear. Their giant mirror ball is the star of the set as the multi-instrumentalists beneath it bend to Murphy’s every instruction. An early play of the electro-house tune ‘Tribulations’ gets the revellers pogoing like loons. Murphy is sure to credit his band, introducing each member one by one, and taking extra poise for “the lady, Nancy Whang.” During “Get Innocuous!” he throws his blazer off, picks up his drumsticks and starts pointing them at his belly, while looking over his shoulders, apparently directing someone else. It could be some drama; it could just be a moment of joy. It could be both.
LCD’s success is rooted in the ability to recognize life’s complex emotions all at once. “Someone Great” — a song about death, loss and remembrance — takes place against a burning amber light, sending the crowd off into their first rave-off. They are rewarded by Murphy switching the mirror ball on to perform its biggest strobe lighting trick. Once the ball gets going, it’s one seamless megamix as the band travel from “Tonite” into “Home” into Whang taking center stage for her own interpretation of Chic’s “I Want Your Love.” For the first time ever, they follow that with “How Do You Sleep?” – a live debut from their most recent album, 2017’s American Dream. “We figured the best thing to do was to wait to play the hardest song we could play at the biggest show,” says Murphy afterwards.
He moves into his spiel, updating the crowd with the “quick information session” that he doesn’t play encores, and that they’ll leave after the next few songs. “Save it, there’s nothing we can do,” he says. “When we leave it’s the fucking end.” Famous last words from Murphy, whose band famously played their “final” show at Madison Square Garden in 2011. “Then you’re on your own,” he adds. “You go home. You think you’re gonna brush your fucking teeth but then you see your fucking face and all the shit you think and say. It’s lonely in here.” He knocks his fist against his head.
Running through “Dance Yrself Clean,” he rearranges the stage while singing and schlepping a drum around. Intending to end on “All My Friends,” he notices there are about four more minutes left on the stage timer and decides to wing it through “New York, I Love You But You’re Bringing Me Down.” The way he sings it is almost karaoke: “It’s like a game show,” he laughs, pointing at the timer. He could be talking about the set, the band, the history, or just life itself.
Yeah Yeah Yeahs Setlist:
“Rockers To Swallow”
“Under The Earth”
“Heads Will Roll”
“Date With The Night”
LCD Soundsystem Setlist:
“You Wanted A Hit”
“I Can Change”
“Call The Police”
“I Want Your Love”
“How Do You Sleep?”
“Dance Yrself Clean”
“All My Friends”
“New York, I Love You But You’re Bringing Me Down”