In the two years since their high-profile return, LCD Soundsystem have gone above and beyond to dispel the notion of their reunion as a cash grab. Having ended their original run with an instantly legendary "final show" at Madison Square Garden in 2011, their reunion faced a remarkable amount of backlash for a band so revered — such a storied finale, to many, seemed cheapened by a second act coming less than five years later.
Above all odds, the band persevered. After a jubilant reunion tour and acclaimed new record, any notions of the group being in it for the money feel dispelled. LCD Soundsystem have nothing left to prove.
Or, almost nothing left to prove. Despite winning many a detractor over, they were unable to fully achieve the arena heights they seek at Toronto's Air Canada Centre last night (December 3). The cavernous arena felt empty, with the upper bowl closed and plenty of holes in the crowd. Beyond a dazzling light show, there were few theatrics.
Frontman James Murphy all but spelled it out: "No skits tonight. No calling out topics. No dance instructions." This was a no-frills LCD Soundsystem performance, propelled by the strength of their catalogue alone — which sometimes wasn't enough.
Four albums in, the band's catalogue is airtight, with a small army of stretched-out dance-punk tracks heavy on the percussion and synth that flow seamlessly together. Smartly eschewing the anxious, paranoid darkness that pervades new album American Dream in favour of their original era sound, the band's material was enough to satisfy.
But with the crowd spread out through the half-empty venue, the sweat-soaked intimacy that the band's songs ache for was instantly neutered, and the band's staid demeanour didn't help. Murphy even sounded resigned when he telegraphed the band's inevitable encore, explaining the band were going to stop playing after a few songs, go take a pee and then come back to play some more songs, regardless of the audience's reaction. It felt like a band going through the motions.
The show called to mind Arcade Fire, who played the ACC a month ago, performing in the centre of the arena on a giant boxing ring. Where the Montrealers' latest album, Everything Now, was given overwhelmingly mediocre reviews, the band stepped up to deliver a spectacle of a show. LCD, on the other hand, did as Arcade Fire's Win Butler told them to do during that famous Madison Square Garden show: they "shut up and play[ed] the hits."
And the hits were great! Combining the band's dance-floor maximalism with ramshackle punk technicality, it was a note-for-note delivery of the band's stellar discography. The eight-piece band were a team, weaving their way through a busy stage and sound with nary a hitch. The slow burn of "Someone Great" gave way to a heartbreaking, euphoric climax, while the synth gurgle of new cut "Tonite" delivered a propulsive groove.
But without the intimacy of the room to aid them, the band faltered in fostering a sense of intimacy and connection, the likes of which drive many of their best tracks. Murphy's trademark wry sense of humour only came out near the end of the show — "Chariots of Fire" soundtracked their pre-encore "pee break"; guest musician Jayson Green made multiple appearances during "Dance Yrself Clean," each time hitting a vibraslap once before leaving; there was a joke about "free jazz" — and it felt too little, too late. The visceral, bodily union of band and crowd that LCD's live shows are primed to evoke never quite materialized.
LCD Soundsystem have earned every bit of their great reputation with their beloved discography, but unfortunately, it wasn't quite enough to fill the ACC.