Friday, 30 July 2010

Substance over Style

Melbourne has many fine venues for live music but it's fair to say the Festival Hall is not one of them. An ugly rectangular brick-concrete warehouse with a stage plonked in the middle of one of its overlong sides, it offers restricted views for anyone unfortunate enough to be stuck far away in the banks of seats on either flank. Alternatively, you might get lucky like we did and spend an evening sharing the floor with twice as many people as should be allowed, many of them kindly smoking in your face and spilling drinks over you as they push their way backwards and forwards from the bars. Nice.

Good job then that both LCD Soundsystem and Hot Chip had the goodies to make us forget that we don't have tickets for Splendour in the Grass in balmy Queensland. This may be a shitty bunker in wintry Melbourne that would make a better abattoir than a concert venue but it doesn't mean we can't have a dance.

First up is the Chip who rise above the unimpressive sound quality to get everyone excited. In an hour's set clearly designed for summer festivals they play spruced up versions of all their hits (Shake a Fist is the only notable exception) including a magnificent Ready for the Floor and a slow building Boy From School. The best is the title track from their latest album One Life Stand which, whilst not quite as good as this version they did with The Roots, is still a bit of class.

Other highlights of the night include a large fish-eye lens video image of a missing member of the group singing backing vocals; some of the best dance-like-nobody's-watching-even-if-everyone-is moves by a keyboard player in classic Yacht Rock attire; several episodes of Beta Band-like swapping of instruments; and the world's slowest and most unerotic striptease by singer Alexis Taylor who peeled off layer after layer of unattractive eighties leisure garments, ending with a shapeless baggy t-shirt and a baseball cap that had clearly been attacked by a bedazzler. Should this sound in anyway like a bad thing, I assure you it wasn't.

If Hot Chip are unlikely pop stars it's no wonder LCD Soundsystem's James Murphy wanted to tour with them. Neither band are likely to attract much mainstream attention during their stay in Australia which really is how it should be. Regardless, Murphy is a consummate star. His David Byrne/Black Francis voice is the perfectly imperfect accompaniment to the sublime noise his band can conjure up and much of the time it is nothing less than hypnotic.

2007's Sound of Silver is one of my favourite albums of all time so songs like Get Innocuous, Time to Get Away and All My Friends were always going to be amongst my highlights. Still this is to understate just how incredible these songs are live - akin to watching A Certain Ratio and Can onstage with Dig Your Own Hole era Chemical Brothers. Equally impressive are Losing my Edge and Yeah, the latter's title repeated and repeated and repeated and repeated relentlessly until everyone in the room submits. It was towards the end of this particular song that a young lad in a wheelchair was hoisted high into the air above his friends' heads in a feat of human kindness and endeavour which almost made up for the terrible beer farts that someone kept unleashing on the crowded dance floor, but not quite.

As I said in one of my very first posts on Mint Custard, I was a latecomer to LCD Soundsystem - blissfully ignorant of their significant pleasures until stumbling across them by accident at a Big Day Out. I'm glad I've had the chance to make up for lost time, especially as this is supposed to be their last year as a group before Murphy calls it quits. Despite assuring the crowd that they'd be back in Australia within a year it already seems a tragedy that music this good might never get played live again. For those who haven't experienced it, it's not too late for beginnings...

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