Battle for I-70 Hipster Supremacy: LCD Soundsystem and Arcade Fire in Kansas City
While the Flaming Lips were rocking St. Louis on Friday night, I decided to hop on I-70 and head west to see LCD Soundsystem and the Arcade Fire at the Starlight Theater in Kansas City, with some of my colleagues from the Pitch.
We drove to the venue -- which is a beautiful outdoor amphitheater in the midst of KC's zoo, itself nestled in urban greenery, a la Forest Park -- while bumping the new will.i.am album (verdict: better than it has any right to be) and thinking of ways to name groups of various subcultures (i.e., a "couch" of stoners, a "ministry" of goths). Having settled on an "irony" of hipsters, we almost ran into such an entity while parking (what does hipster tailgaiting entail, anyway? We never did find out) and entered the venue just in time to catch LCD's first song, "Us Vs. Them."
As at Lollapalooza, James Murphy and his bandmates were completely en pointe, while mashing together New Order, the Rapture, the Cure and countless other post-punk-dance-funk groovers. Upon listening to its hour-long set, though, it occurred to me that LCD's influence on recent popular music has been rather sneaky (and less obvious than just producing/grooming the Rapture) -- namely in how it's pushed hip-hop production values more toward the 1980s.
Various Arcade Fire members came onstage to help out during the set -- Win Butler and his brother lending backup chorus help on "North American Scum"; seeing the former dorkily play air guitar to the song was amusing -- and Regine Chassis plunking out xylophone on hands-down highlight "Someone Great." The best song on Sound of Silver -- mostly because of its vulnerability, especially when coupled with a roiling, digitally perforated synth line, "Great" didn't disappoint this night either; Murphy dropped his manic dance moves and party-dude growls and stood stock-still in the spotlight, looking up at the sky while quaver-singing the lines about loss.
The only real misstep was the final song, the ballad-y "New York, I Love You, But You're Bringing Me Down." This was partly due to placement in the set -- after a blazing, ten-minute-plus scream-through of "Yeah," which featured squiggling synths, insane percussion from multiple members of the band (a la Arcade Fire) and deep, cutting ridges of bass, almost anything would have paled. But mainly this was due to the song's overly saccharine schmaltz and almost campy sense of schmaltz; Murphy quavered and his voice cracked, making him come across like he was doing bad karaoke or was drunk at last call.
This is the second time I've seen the Arcade Fire this year; I never wrote about the first because, frankly, I was underwhelmed and disappointed by a May Chicago show -- mostly because of the obnoxious crowd. My theory then was that the band's music ca. Neon Bible -- despite its reputation for joyous exuberance -- was best experienced in solitude, treated as going to confession instead of attending a large-scale revival.
But the KC show on Friday completely changed my opinion on this matter. And I'm not really sure why. The set accoutrements (round screens scattered throughout showing neon Bibles and/or cool, grainy footage of various band members) were the same. The band was just as enthusiastic -- bopping around onstage like Muppets (in some cases) while banging on every type of percussion instrument/drum under the sun, switching instruments, singing along to songs and generally whooping it up. The string section was just as solid, the multi-instrumentalists -- clarinet, french horn -- added pleasing color, and the Springsteen-esque songs from Bible sounded just as Boss-like.
Even a Regine solo song -- a beat-heavy song, perfect for strutting and vamping it up, a la old-time 40s cabaret singers -- was fun. While she's an incredibly talented musician, as evidenced by her turn on the drums (quoth husband Win: "She's better than I am at drums. In fact, she's better than me at most things."), her stage demeanor can be somewhat annoying, a bit too "Look at me, I'm cute!" But her performance -- a cross between Bjork and Dresden Dolls -- fit the danceable, party atmosphere of the night (and justified why this double-bill was an abstractly perfect fit).
Honestly, the atmosphere of the crowd -- most of which was jumping around and dancing, uninhibited by self-consciousness or social expectations -- perhaps also made the set. It reacted with rapt enthusiasm for nearly every song, including a rare burbling cover of the Magnetic Fields' "Born on a Train," which was a same-day request. The final three songs of the set were "Neighborhood #1 (Tunnels)," which bled directly into "Neighborhood #3 (Power Out)" and "Rebellion (Lies)." By the end of the triad -- during which the music swelled and kept building to a dizzying coda -- the atmosphere was nothing short of perfect.
As I left, I couldn't help but wish wistfully that Forest Park had a venue such as this that would be willing to bring cool shows like this to St. Louis. The Starlight grabs a fair amount of high-profile tours -- the Cure and Depeche Mode, in recent and future memory -- because there's not a properly sized venue in the city for them. Which is a damn shame: The venue was pretty full in KC, and there's no reason why St. Louis couldn't also make a venue like this viable.