Standing in front of thousands of sand-beaten Coachellans with flowing dresses and swim trunks, LCD Soundsystem’s James Murphy, 46, a chubby, pale New Yorker with cheek fuzz, was the definition of anti-cool on Friday night. “We made a deal that I wouldn’t talk too much,” he said. “So we could play more songs, which I think is a win.” For two hours, Murphy played a focused set where his intensity showed on every song, rarely smiling, which made LCD’s set feel very punk (which surprised a few people). LCD opened with “Us V. Them,” followed by “Daft Punk is Playing at My House” to give their performance an aggressive jolt.
Two minutes into their set, a Bowie-esque Murphy signaled the lowering of a giant disco ball, electrifying the crowd. Perhaps the most stunning visual of Night One, the mirrorball flickered like a tesla coil spraying the crowd with beams of white light. Murphy balanced the glitz with austerity, reflected in his non-Coachella look: white collared shirt, black sports coat, and matching slacks. He looked like Brian Wilson at a wedding. He also had very little to prove to the festivalgoers, most of whom see LCD as an artifact in their record collection, as opposed to the future.
LCD soundsystem covering “Heroes” was perfect. pic.twitter.com/14j8h8HiYR
— Ryan Mac (@RMac18) April 16, 2016
Even those who bought tickets just to see Guns N’ Roses or Calvin Harris and just happened to catch LCD on Friday felt a sense of epicness during the band’s two-hour marathon set: In a special moment during “New York, I Love You But You’re Bringing Me Down,” Murphy, with his graying bangs casting a silhouette behind him on a graphic of New York City, began to sing something that wasn’t immediately familiar:
‘Nothin’ lasts forever, and we both know hearts can change. And it’s hard to hold a candle, in the cold November rain.”
Murphy, along with singer Nancy Whang, turned the coda to “New York, I Love You” into a softly sung Guns N’ Roses ballad. Whether it was a pandering or some sort of clue of what the future holds, it stole the show. LCD should have closed with “New York,” but they played on, as the digital clock counted down behind them. With glow sticks and balloons flying over the pit, LCD managed to become the only rock stars on Night One capable of creating a dance party. This was, without question, an EDM crowd who didn’t really want to mosh to “Movement.” They just wanted to lose themselves on the dance floor. So LCD turned the massive Coachella stage into a glowing New York nightclub, perhaps the most grandiose moment of the reunion tour, which currently includes 15 additional stops at major festivals like Bonnaroo and FYF Fest. Out front is Murphy, their digital maestro.
— WONDERFAF (@FARAHBELKADHI) April 16, 2016
At 6’1″, holding his vintage-looking mic to his mouth like a flip-phone, Murphy took about eight songs to loose up and groove, rather than confront. Which is probably why this reunion happened: Murphy is performer, first, New York aristocrat, second. Then again, maybe we were duped and this is just about the money, a reported $1 million per weekend at Coachella. Obviously, Murphy can use the money to bankroll his dream factory of ideas, like turning subway turnstile sounds into ambient music.
What’s clear is that Murphy needs a machine to rage against in order to be happy. He’s an artist who needs to make bold statements. Where better than Coachella to rage against the status quo? The last time they played was in 2010, where Jay Z headlined. “The last time we played here, Jay Z played after us and we were honored because we really like him,” said Murphy. “But tonight he’s not here and we’re sorry.” A few people chuckled.
Bowie, in spirit, was also there on Friday night. Murphy takes a lot of his cues from MTV-era Bowie, albeit a bit less flamboyant. LCD even covered “Heroes” during the encore and closed with “All My Friends,” with a rainbow of colors lighting up the giant liquid-crystal display behind them. The crowd was feeling the love, even though they probably preferred an EDM DJ to headline, as Murphy seemed to be having fun and doing what he does best: rock a crowd.
Correction: An earlier version of this article stated that 2010 was the first year LCD Soundsystem performed at Coachella. It was the last year they played, not the first.