Neil Young introduced the rock world to the phrase “it’s better to burn out than to fade away,” but on Saturday night, James Murphy and LCD Soundsystem enthusiastically drove home that message with a farewell show that was one part Irish wake and one part post-modern Last Waltz.
LCD ringmaster James Murphy promised to throw everything but the kitchen sink into the mix at the wildly-anticipated show, and he delivered. Over the course of four sets that stretched more than four hours, the band mined every vein of its catalog, hitting on spasmodic punk-house, trance-inducing drones and even a passel of covers that paid tribute to its far-flung influences.
Murphy threw down a gauntlet by frontloading the first set with some of LCD’s catchiest, most widely-known songs, including “Drunk Girls” and “Daft Punk Is Playing at My House,” crafting a 50 minute diorama that could’ve passed as a satisfying club set back in the day.
But on this evening, it was only the beginning. Set number two, perhaps best appreciated by true believers, presented the cosmic gym rat suite “45:33” in its entirety. As the piece — which Murphy initially marketed through Nike, using a fictional tale of his own workout regimen — unfolded, the sonics built pleasingly, but some aud members drifted palpably.
Murphy reined things in for the third salvo, bringing in Win Butler and Regine Chassagne of Arcade Fire to ramp up the already raucous energy level of “North American Scum” and teasing the crowd with a rendition of “You Wanted a Hit” that walked a fine line between taunting and affectionate — ultimately landing on the latter. That mood would extend through the rest of the evening — highlighted by a screaming cover of Harry Nilsson’s “Jump Into the Fire” and a keening “Losing My Edge.”
It was one of the strangest final chapters in recent rock history: An underground phenomenon turned ubiquitous house party band saying goodbye at a Madison Square Garden perf that sold out in less than a minute. The surrealism of that scenario was underscored by the firestorm that followed said sell-out – with Murphy launching a series of expletive-laden press releases against scalpers who were pawning tickets for four figures, and undercutting said brokers by adding four theater shows leading up to the event.
By the time the perf started, however, the bad vibes had clearly dissipated. And when Murphy offered a final toast with the unlikely Gotham anthem “New York, I Love You, But You’re Bringing Me Down,” the mood was akin to the end of an epic familial bash — a little bit sweet, a little bit sad, and entirely spent.