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Re: SET Festival, Day 3 (Idles, Jamie xx, LCD Soundsystem), Merriweather Post Pavilion, Columbia, Maryland, June 18, 2023

Re: SET Festival, Day 3 (Idles, Jamie xx, LCD Soundsystem)

Merriweather Post Pavilion, Columbia, Maryland, June 18, 2023

My aversion to suburban shows and festivals is profound. It takes a lot for me to want to get in a car and drive to the outskirts of town for live music, but free tickets to one of the era’s defining bands qualifies. A neighbor working in a domestic violence prevention organization posted that she had been given tickets to the exorbitantly expensive three-day Re: SET Festival in Columbia, Maryland, where each day was listed at $95 and a three-day package started at $270. For the lawn. We missed day one, a kind of queer indie rock night, led by boygenious and featuring Clairo and others whom I would have gladly wanted to see. Day two was the dance music night which I would not have been interested in. And day three was… well, a rock/electronic music night headlined by LCD Soundsystem with backing performances from British punk band IDLES and a DJ set from Jamie xx of The xx and opening band L’Rain.

We got to Merriweather Post and parked shamelessly illegally in one of the many lots in this suburban hell (the one previous show I had see at Merriweather Post was the Pet Shop Boys and New Order). The venue was not well attended. When we got there, the ushers were encouraging people to go to the covered seated area, rather than the the lawn tickets I had. To me, this all screamed “overhyped/undersold” which is a classic risk in a new concert festival series, even one as deeply bankrolled as the Anschutz Entertainment Group with the traveling Re: SET package. Seriously, fans who want to see boygenious are unlikely to be excited by Steve Lacy, and vice-versa, and it’s hard to sell festival-style tickets to a suburban shed over three nights, when people cannot camp out overnight.

My excitement came at the chance to see LCD Soundsystem, a band which had existed, made its impact in electronic and indie circles, and then broken up before I had the chance to see them — documented expertly if inaccurately in their “farewell” concert series at Madison Square Garden and 2012 concert film Shut Up and Play the Hits. Of course, like most bands nowadays, the farewell was only a temporary one. James Murphy reformed LCD Soundsystem not too long afterward, and he is still playing the hits in touring.

In the set at Merriweather Post Pavilion, LCD Soundsystem focused on the records that made the band iconic within a segment of (now aging) hipsters, starting in Brooklyn clubs and growing to a global fanbase over a span of about eight years: LCD Soundsystem, Sound of Silver, and This is Happening. In retrospect, this was the height of G.W. Bush-era Brooklyn indie, where the sounds from that scene briefly conquered the world.

Murphy explained apologetically a few songs into the set that their longtime bassist Tyler Pope was sick and as a result, the band members had to swap instruments and adjust to his absence. (“Oh, don’t worry, he’ll be fine. But he appreciates the support,” he joked mildly.) But wow, what a great band, and how unabashedly they pull from their myriad influences. The guitarist Al Doyle was wearing a Talking Heads t-shirt, a clear aesthetic forebear; Nancy Whang’s keyboards proudly declaimed their influences from krautrock to disco to EDM, and of course Murphy joins the percussion regularly, alternating from clangorous rock rhythms to lithe grooves.

It would all just be gifted pastiche if James Murphy was not as good a composer as he is. The best LCD songs are truly miraculous in their way; it’s not a coincidence that DC’s long-running “indie electronic dance party” is called “Dance Yourself Clean” after an LCD Soundsystem song. They typically build from spartan grooves to full-bore anthems, but in concert it was eminently clear that LCD Soundsystem is a rock band that plays dance music; unlike a DJ set or a contemporary dance band, this was all live instruments and tight musicianship. And watching the band members swap instruments and shift roles to fill the gap left by Tyler Pope’s absence was impressive as well.

The show started with “Get Innocuous!” — not one of my faves — but immediately picked up with “I Can Change” and “You Wanted a Hit,” one of the innumerable LCD Soundystem songs that self-referentially puts the band in the context of the evolution of the pop and alternative music landscape. The band did most of their important singles over the core ten-year run from 2002-2012, skipping “Drunk Girls,” whose perhaps-ironically-intended misogyny hasn’t aged well, and the genre-defining “Daft Punk is Playing at My House.” The one new song, “new body rhumba” from the Noah Baumbach adaptation of Dom Delillo’s White Noise, I like a lot.

To my chagrin my wife Susan’s energy and interest was waning and we left the show as the band was joined my members of IDLES for a Joy Division cover, and before the inevitable close of “Dance Yrself Clean” and Sound of Silver’s generation-defining “All My Friends.” But even though I think we heard maybe 10 or 11 of the band’s tracks, it’s an experience I’m grateful to have had — especially since for around the past decade, I had assumed I’d missed the chance to ever see LCD Soundsystem in concert.

Of course, to get to LCD Soundsystem, we had to get through the openers. We completely missed L’Rain, which was too bad because I’ve heard good things about them. I have friends who absolutely love IDLES, and in conversation with them, what emerges is the fondness and genuine sense of warmth that the band and its leader shares with its audience. And indeed, during breaks between their blistering punk songs and scabrous indictments of the British monarchy, billionaires, right-wing media, and racism and homophobia, IDLES songwriter and singer Joe Talbot spoke with heartfelt fondness for parents — it was Father’s Day, and he spoke about his four-year-old, and alluded to the death of his daughter some years before — and his fans. Indeed, notwithstanding the bilious tone of the music and the unrelenting aural assault of the band, Talbot emerged as basically a softie. In the hard-hitting twelve-song set drawing mostly from CRAWLER and Joy as an Act of Resistance, IDLES struck an intriguing equipoise between righteous rage and heartfelt sentimentality, which apparently is a big part of the band’s appeal to its fanbase. On a side note, it was startling to hear a British punk band loudly condemning the King — for all the generations that punk has existed, it’s been defined by its opposition to a Queen. I guess times have changed.

The music, though. IDLES is relentless energy and machine-gun precision. The rhythm section is both frenetic and rigidly on the beat, inciting a mosh pit down in the small open areas in front of the seating. But out on the lawn, the energy of the performance was dissipated to a clangorous noise. Honestly, Susan hated it, and her antipathy toward the IDLES set burned her out before LCD Soundsystem’s set. I didn’t hate it — I’ve been through my share of hardcore shows in high school cafeterias and dank DC house parties — but it’s hard to be in the right frame of mind for this music on a warm sunny summer afternoon. It struck me as a contextual matter for this kind of music to succeed in that kind of environment, and it was hard to be fully engaged and easy to be annoyed.

Jamie xx was an artist of whom I was completely unfamiliar. Of course I know of the band the xx, with whom he was associated, but Jamie xx did an entire hour-long DJ set. Reading a writeup in Pitchfork of his 2015 full-length debut, I was expecting something more energizing than the somewhat spacey set that he presented. There were samples from a variety of cross-genre, cross-generational artists, mostly black American influences whose raw organic vocals and analog instruments dipped into and out of the rippling electronic synthesizer chords and beats.

What I do feel favorably disposed to in his set was the work that played on the contrast between vintage R&B and soul vocal samples and evanescent synthesizers. Mind you, Moby was doing that stuff and selling boatloads of records in the 1990s with big hooks and samples, but Jamie xx’s approach in concert was more ephemeral, with slow amorphous builds and dips in tempo and fewer of what the Chemical Brothers called block-rocking beats back in the early days of hybrid rock-electronic dance music. I just wasn’t feeling it; it wasn’t unpleasant but I was not deeply engaged.

Edited 3 time(s). Last edit at 07/09/2023 08:48PM by zwirnm.
Thanks for the write-up! I wanted to go to this as well, albeit in Queens, but prices were too steep for me and I didn't want to settle for a seat far from the stage. (If I was able to splurge, I probably would've gone to boygenius simply because I've never seen them before.)

I've seen LCD Soundsystem twice: at the farewell show and at one of the first (non-festival) reunion shows at Brooklyn Steel. The farewell show was one of the best I've ever been to, and at the time it felt like THE best show I've ever attended. The reunion show was a monumental disappointment for reasons beyond their control: they had to stop the show multiple times due to equipment malfunctions, and it was the first time I've ever seen James Murphy so contrite - clearly embarrassed, he told us he was going to send us all the new record for free. (It turned out to be a download code, but the gesture was appreciated.) The finale was great, but with LCD Soundsystem you really need that build, and unfortunately stopping the show so many times meant there was none of the sustained momentum that would've made it a truly satisfying experience. Even worse was certain douchebags at the show, and it was bad enough to discourage me from attending any more. I was almost at the very front of the stage with only a teenager and her parents in front of me, but despite a stern and hard warning by security NOT to pass any drinks to the band or the stage, these douchebags tried forcing a glass of beer to James Murphy, even though there's a whole aisle separating the barrier and the stage (where security could patrol through). Crowd was packed in tight so not surprisingly the beer was knocked over when the mother in front of me was trying to tell the tallest one not to hand her the beer. The guy then proceeded to berate and threaten her while she explained in a civil manner that her teenage daughter was attending her first concert and they were there to ensure she had a good time.

Kind of a shitty way to see what's so far the last show by a favorite group, but if they're still delivering their A game, maybe I should attend another show and hopefully make up for that memory. (I was tempted to attend one of their recent Brooklyn Steel residencies for that reason, but the pandemic kept me away, especially the late 2021 surge that actually brought that December residency to a pre-mature end.)

Edited 1 time(s). Last edit at 07/09/2023 11:16PM by belfast.
Thanks for the show review! I've been excited for an opportunity to see IDLES, whose cds I very thoroughly enjoy. They played a club date within striking distance, but it was during the pandemic and I couldn't convince myself to go. Anyway, it was interesting to read impressions from someone who wasn't already a fan.
Thanks for the feedback @belfast and @DuckRabbit. I totally agree about the pricing; it was just nonsensical to charge $270+service charges for three days of lawn tickets, and even $95 for lawn for a single day is pretty steep, even if it's a band you really wanted to see (for me, boygenius and LCD Soundsystem would have both been in that category). But I would probably not drive out to the suburbs for either act, and they would likely be doing their own full shows in DC some point for more modest pricing. There is an article in Variety about the economics and logistics of the tour; I wonder how it panned out between its various dates and locations.

I would like IDLES more in the right setting, I'm sure. I was reminded a bit of Titus Andronicus; not sure if fans of one are fans of the other. Also a bit of the Thermals, but I like the Thermals for their mix of righteous outrage and big hooks.
I like what I have heard of IDLES, but I agree that it's a band I would prefer to see in a small club setting, not some big outdoor festival. Alas, lesser-known bands often do not get to pick the venues at which they appear. I believe IDLES are a pretty big deal in their native UK, but I almost never see any mention of them on this side of the pond (including here in Canada, where we are often more open to giving British and Australian bands a hearing before they become famous).

As for Animal Collective, nothing I've ever from them ever grabbed me. They are competent, but I've never felt the urge to go out of my way to hear them. And I certainly would never pay these insane prices to see them live.
lol at the Animal Collective reference; they named a record Merriweather Post Pavilion after the venue; I have no interest in them musically whatsoever.
What can I say, whenever I see a reference to the Merriweather Post Pavilion, I can only think of Animal Collective.
Very impressive about LCD Soundsystem. Really like some of their music, but it wouldn’t occur to me to see them live since I figured it was just one guy pushing buttons. But a whole band, eh?
Really like some of their music, but it wouldn’t occur to me to see them live since I figured it was just one guy pushing buttons. But a whole band, eh?

Run-D.M.C. first said a DJ could be a band, stand on its own feet, get you out your seat.

Ha, always up for a Public Enemy quote. But yeah, it's very much a band.
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MrFab Wrote:
> Very impressive about LCD Soundsystem. Really like some of their music, but it wouldn’t occur to me to see them live since I figured it was
> just one guy pushing buttons. But a whole band, eh?

I read a review of their live show years ago, and the writer compared LCD Soundsystem to Remain in Light-era Talking Heads with the expanded band. That compelled me to check out some live clips on YouTube. Good stuff!
There is a clear lineage between that era of Talking Heads and the live performance by LCD Soundsystem.
When I first moved to Brooklyn in 2009, it really felt like Talking Heads were at their cultural peak (at least in my lifetime), and they were sort of like the godparents of everything great that was going on locally. LCD Soundsystem was kind of at the forefront of it all and it really felt like they were inspiring everyone from TV on the Radio to the Yeah Yeah Yeahs to Arcade Fire - their records at the time (Dear Science,, It's Blitz! and parts of The Suburbs) all sounded like they were heading for the dance floors. It was a great time to be in Brooklyn, and on some level everyone was still high off of the run-up to Obama's presidential win. 14 years is a long time at this point, but even five years on it felt like a lifetime because so much was changing and had changed in very turbulent fashion.
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