LCD Soundsystem, Brixton Academy, London
Scouting for Girls, Royal Concert Hall, Nottingham
Murphy's law: you don't need a flashy stage show if the music speaks for itself
Sunday 02 May 2010
On to a stage equipped with bleeding-edge musical technology ambles a big teddy bear of a man, a notepad under his arm, looking more like a groovy art lecturer than one of the defining pop thinkers and talents of the new century. But don't be fooled by his scruffy demeanour, because that is exactly what James Murphy is.
What you don't get with Murphy and LCD Soundsystem is much in the way of visuals. It's a spartan set-up, give or take the most smoke this side of Eyjafjallajokull. For the killer single "Drunk Girls", they really push the boat out ... with a slide of some trees. Occasionally, Murphy or his co-frontperson Nancy Whang will whack some toms, and James will chat to us pointlessly on a microphone muffled by so much Elvis echo that no one can make out what he's saying.
It barely matters: the pictures are inside your head. From Kraftwerkian opener "Get Innocuous!" onwards, LCD Soundsystem are cruising the same pop superhighway Paul Morley imagined, Kylie his chauffeuse, in Words and Music, the tail lights of lesser bands flashing irrelevantly in the dark.
To describe LCD and Murphy's DFA production team as influential is, while true, also kind of beside the point, as their imitators have rarely come close. The sublime excellence of their own three albums is their primary value. Future generations will look upon this trilogy and see an importance we're only beginning to grasp.
After a few plays, their imminent third and, heartbreakingly, final album This Is Happening effortlessly lives up to its predecessor but, perhaps due to Murphy's much-reported paranoia about leaking, we're treated only to tantalising glimpses: "Drunk Girls" (which gives me an earworm of Pete Townshend's "Rough Boys"), and "Pow Pow", which attains the motorik majesty of Simple Minds circa Empires and Dance.
On tracks such as "Losing My Edge", "Yr City's a Sucker" and "Daft Punk Is Playing in My House", Murphy shows he's hyper-aware of the comical minutiae of hipster oneupmanship. But he can also cut through the temporal and trivial to deliver something of eternal resonance.
And the most glistening example is "All My Friends", a song that was good enough to be covered by John Cale and Franz Ferdinand. When you're there, immersed in the moment, in thrall to its stroboscopic shudder, Murphy delivering the painfully accurate couplet "You spend the first five years trying to get with the plan/And the next five years trying to be with your friends again ...", you can believe this is the very pinnacle of popular music. And it brings with it the strangest moment of communion: a thousand people, arms around one another's shoulders, paradoxically yelling, "Where are your friends tonight?".
There's a moment in "The Airplane Song" when Scouting for Girls, on the opening night of their UK tour, don't have to sing any more because the whole of Nottingham is singing it for them. The bassist Greg Churchouse looks over at singer-keyboardist Roy Stride who catches his eye, and they both suppress a smirk, as though they can't believe they're getting away with this. I can't believe it either.
Since 2007, Scouting for Girls have emerged as the kings of plinky-plonky lad pop. They're the indie band for people who find Kaiser Chiefs a little too deep and challenging. And there are evidently plenty of those people around.
There's plenty of interactivity at a Scouting for Girls gig, changing the song "Glastonbury" to "Nottingham", balcony walkabouts, megaphone silliness, and a singalong cover of Journey's "Don't Stop Believin' ". I feel like a grouch for begrudging everyone their fun. Then I remember that a musical crime against humanity like "She's So Lovely" can't go unpunished.
They encore with "Posh Girls", a song that titters at toff totty, and is taken from their new album Everybody Wants to Be on TV, released in the same month that SFG were shown whoring themselves at a private party on MTV's My British Super Sweet 16; a case of having your cake, eating it, and biting the hand that's feeding it to you. I almost dig the shamelessness.
Indeed, the cunning with which the Ruislip trio have targeted the thickest part (in the sense of the widest point of a teardrop-shaped graph) of the population's IQ is almost admirable. No one ever went broke underestimating the intelligence of the public, H L Mencken reckoned. But, as Scouting for Girls have worked out, getting the intelligence of the public exactly right: that's where the real money is.
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