As an impatient crowd yelled catcalls for opening rock duo Sleigh Bells to “get out here,” I was preoccupied worrying about getting slammed into the brick stage and how long it would take for the drunken girl behind me to spill her beer.
I can’t say that I agree with the decision to book Sleigh Bells, an act notorious for its chaotic, distorted sound, to open for LCD Soundsystem, a smooth electronic group driven by the always-casual genius James Murphy and his strong sense of irony, last Saturday at the Charlottesville Pavilion.
Halfway through Sleigh Bells’ set, I was starting to feel legitimately concerned that I wouldn’t even be able to hear LCD Soundsystem by the time singer Alexis Krauss was done screeching into my ear. Even though I arrived early enough to stand in the front row, almost dead center, I still wound up in front of a speaker presumably designed to cause permanent damage.
So while I enjoyed what I could make out of the frantic melodies that guitarist Derek Miller tapped out amongst the heavy distortion and earsplitting vocals, I couldn’t help but wish they’d tone it down so I could actually appreciate their music.
It was all worth it when LCD Soundsystem finally came on. One by one, they coolly took their places, with drummer Al Doyle bicycling in to extra fanfare. Murphy was the last of the bunch, nonchalantly ignoring the crowd to talk to some of the band members, tighten his belt, and lazily kick aside a towel a fan had thrown onstage.
Without a word, the band started their opening track, “Dance Yrself Clean,” a dynamic song that begins with mellow percussion taps and electronic whines before exploding into an energetic, pulsating dance number where Murphy wailed over the screams of an ecstatic crowd.
“I’m glad you guys are having fun,” Murphy said at the track’s close, sounding relieved. “This is a pavilion. I would think pavilions would be boring.”
The next track they launched into, “Drunk Girls,” was a song I’d struggled to connect with on their latest album, “This Is Happening,” but hearing it performed live made it sound like a completely different song. There’s a certain twang and energy you miss on the studio recordings that really came through here.
Murphy and guitarist David Scott Stone both went absolutely insane over the course of this song, with Murphy hammering on drums hard enough to punch holes in them and Stone twirling his guitar around like a fiery comet in space.
Throughout the show, the stage lights flared to the beat and to Murphy’s yells, representing a monumental leap in quality over Sleigh Bells, whose frenzied stage presence amounted to hectic strobes of red and blue reminiscent of classic red-cyan anaglyph 3D.
And though both Krauss and Murphy clearly push their voices to the breaking point, Murphy’s effort came across as infinitely more genuine. He’d often stare off to the side at faraway horizons that only he could see, looking as though he were about to collapse, before launching into choruses even he seemed surprised by.
During “Yeah,” the final song before an expected encore, Murphy was giving everything he had, hitting his leg with a drumstick with each “yeah” he sang, as though trying to spur himself to give even more. Stone’s glasses were close to falling off he was in such a fervor.
The crowd was no less enthusiastic, with bittersweet stage dives happening every couple of minutes to mixed results. “Movement,” a brilliant, fast-paced track that played just before “Yeah,” had the crowd going completely psychotic, slamming my friends and I up against the unforgiving brick of the stage. I could only manage glimpses of the tumultuous sea of zealots behind me.
As the band finally wound down after a deserved encore, they each exited one at a time, mirroring their entrance, until only Doyle and Stone were left, each still jamming. They both stopped on cue, waving to the crowd as they left, and Eddy Grant’s “Electric Avenue” began to play, signaling the end of the show and a Saturday well spent.
[Photo credit: Thomas Ella/Bullet]