The marquee atop the Fox Theater in Pomona didn’t exactly advertise the fact that one of the biggest pre-Coachella reunion concerts in years was afoot.
“NOTHING TO SEE HERE,” the sign read on Monday night, gently needling the hundreds and hundreds of people queued up to see LCD Soundsystem’s first show in Southern California in more than five years. The line wound around almost an entire city block, just about lapping back to the Fox’s ticket counter.
There, the hopped-up LCD fans got another cheeky command from above.
James Murphy’s modern disco band (maybe not the perfect descriptor, but one he’d likely be OK with) has stood nearly alone through seismic shifts in American dance music the last 15 years.
But most of all, in a genre that makes its points through the promise of the new, Murphy wrote songs like “All My Friends” that are already classic rock for millennial clubbers. Though a five-year absence may seem paltry compared with the decades fans have waited for fellow Coachella headliner Guns N’ Roses to return, it’s a lifetime in today’s dance music. Maybe it’s just enough time for the band to feel new again.
Outside the Pomona show on Monday, LCD’s return seemed no less electric for being somewhat expected.
“I’m really excited. I think there was always an expectation that they’d come back. The fan base has stayed really loyal — you see how many people showed up for this,” said Cecilia Shakerley, who drove out from L.A. for the Pomona show.
In the five years since the band’s emotional retirement party at Madison Square Garden (amply documented in a documentary film, quintuple-LP live album and tens of thousands of rended garments from millennial clubgoers), dance music has changed immeasurably. But LCD’s influence has been most impressive because no one’s tried to copy it.
For newer Coachella dance music artists, who were children when “Losing My Edge” dropped and were teenagers when LCD broke up, the band has a kind of lore. “It was really hard to not like them,” said the young L.A. producer Ghastly, who is playing the festival’s DoLab tent. “ ‘Daft Punk Is Playing at My House’ sparked a lot of ambition in my songwriting because of its utter carelessness for what is considered hip or popular, and created its own story.”
Thomas Jack, the Australian producer and Coachella performer who helped establish the current “tropical house” sound that’s omnipresent at festivals and pop radio, noted that “LCD Soundsystem played a huge role in changing the modern festival landscape in terms of underground dance culture.
“Their sound introduced indie and rock fans to dance grooves that they would not have heard otherwise — or at least didn’t know they liked. They were the very ethos of DJ culture, by using their own tastes to create genre-bending sets of music, but they were a fully formed band with a fully formed vision. How common is that? Not very.”
The first Coachella had plenty of acts — Underworld, Juan Atkins, Chemical Brothers — who were foundational to English rave and American techno. A decade into electronic dance music’s ascent, Calvin Harris can play the main stages to some of the biggest crowds Coachella’s seen.
But LCD (which is essentially Murphy with about half a dozen regular collaborators) was one of the first acts to lead novice audiences into the dance tents for something new. There’s never really been a band that can straddle Coachella’s current divide between classic-rock revivalism, the Sahara tent’s ecstatic raves and the newer Yuma tent’s heavy body music at once, all while playing with the force of a headliner (the band closes out both Friday nights at the festival).
“The sound design in LCD Soundsystem is incredible and their players are some of the best in the world. I feel there is a level of difficulty to putting on a live show like this that a lot of DJs aren’t able to match,” said Nina Las Vegas, an artist and DJ at the taste-making Australian radio station Triple J, who is playing the festival.
Even though it’s been only half a decade, LCD’s return comes with some pangs of lost time. For club-music fans who hauled out to big cities in the mid 2000s and are feeling the pains of fading youth, Murphy is kind of a late-night Bruce Springsteen. The shows are raucous, and Murphy’s self-aware wit is smart and inclusive. But there’s always an undercurrent in his songs about watching your life decisions add up and your future slowly winnowing down. That’s what makes the escape of the party all the more necessary.
Murphy “has a sense of humor that works so well. The 2000s were a sarcastic time, but he coupled that with a real angst about, ‘What are we all doing here?’” said Eli Goldstein, a producer and DJ in the veteran house group Soul Clap, which is also performing at Coachella.
“When people go to party, they go to escape. But all the most classic dance songs have some kind of message. It’s important to give people something to really feel as well.”
“I was so clearly expecting the cynical cries of foul, that I hadn’t seen the heartfelt complaint coming.”
He vowed that those sentiments made it all the more necessary to not just come back, but to have something vital and new to offer. “It needs to be better than anything we’ve done before, in my mind, because it won’t have the help of being the first time.”
Despite whatever the marquees tell you, when he takes the Coachella main stage on Friday, it will definitely be something to see.