On Friday, legendary dance-punk band LCD Soundsystem came to Stanford for the very first day of the inaugural concert series Re:SET alongside Big Freedia, Idles and Jamie xx. Leaving Frost Amphitheater clutching my press pass in one hand and a concert setlist in the other, I realized that day would go down as an especially fantastic moment for music fans all around the Bay Area.
With the band displaying its knack for blood-pumping instrumentation (and frontman James Murphy’s brilliant songwriting), I can confidently say this was one of the best concerts I have ever attended.
Re:SET is a brand new outdoor concert series by AEG Presents which sees established artists performing in the same venues across the country (from Stanford to New Orleans to Queens) for the next few weekends. It’s quite an innovative model: essentially, LCD Soundsystem, Steve Lacy and boygenius are moving together from region to region triangularly performing throughout the month of June. The same day that LCD played Stanford, Lacy was in Los Angeles and boygenius in San Diego.
According to AEG Presents senior vice president Rich Holtzman, the Re:SET shows were specifically designed as “smaller, curated bills with one stage [and] space in between the bands to hang with friends.” To me, these are all welcome changes to the stale and overblown nature of most festival lineups — already a good sign.
This new blueprint for the modern music festival isn’t without fault. Here’s a strange aspect of Re:SET: performances began at 4:00 p.m. I ended up missing the first act, Big Freedia — the Queen of Bounce — even after rushing over from afternoon classes. Considering the hectic life of Stanford students and other concertgoers, it’s no wonder that Frost was still sparse when I got there.
I entered the pit as British punk band Idles performed the first song of its set, the (fittingly) colossal “Colossus.” Featuring snarling vocals from the energetic Joe Talbot and a driving rhythm section, the track was as intense as it was impassioned. Talbot’s face would often turn beet red, with thick veins protruding from his face as he screamed diatribes. Like the fantastic parent album for “Colossus” (“Joy As An Act of Resistance”), Idles’ performance was centered around vulnerability and sincerity.
The band isn’t afraid to wear their politics on their sleeve (as is the case with plenty of punk groups). Talbot prefaced the catchy punk shout-along “Danny Nedelko” by talking about his unequivocal support for immigrants around the world. His message made sense in the context of the song’s simple-yet-effective chorus lyrics: “He’s made of bones / He’s made of blood / He’s made of flesh / He’s made of love / He’s made of you / He’s made of me / Unity! / Fear leads to panic / Panic leads to pain / Pain leads to anger / Anger leads to hate.”
Overall, Idles set my expectations incredibly high for the rest of the concert: this was the biggest barn burner I had ever seen at Frost, turning the audience into a group of punk rockers for an hour.
By the time Jamie xx came on stage, I had made my way to the railing, placing myself in the front middle of the first row. A massive disco ball descended from the middle of the stage as Jamie, a member of the English indie pop band The xx, came on stage in a modest black t-shirt and striped pants. If I hadn’t recognized his face and shaggy hair, he could’ve easily been mistaken for a roadie.
As soon as he got behind his gear, his artistry was unmistakable: Jamie effortlessly cycled through dozens of grooves, a handful of electronic genres and probably thousands of sounds. He quickly established his rich, varied sound palette with an opening collection of tracks that flowed into each other. Electronic genres like future garage, chipmunk soul and U.K. bass were all present in his set, sparking bouts of euphoric dance among the bouncy crowd. Everyone around me looked to be in a stupor induced by music (and, let’s be honest, drugs).
As the sun went down, it was finally time for the main event: the quintessentially New York band LCD Soundsystem. They began performing at 8:15 p.m., starting with the classic “Get Innocuous” from the album “Sound of Silver.” The rhythm section’s relentless groove and Murphy’s Bowie-esque vocal performance made for a perfect introduction to the unmatched magic of the group’s sound.
I can’t imagine how much all of their equipment must have cost. Analog synthesizers, the instruments of the four-piece rock band, assorted percussion (including a fun vibraslap and bongos) and amplifiers cluttered every corner of the stage. In fact, the amount of equipment around the band forced the musicians to scrunch together in the middle of the stage, surrounded by walls of amplifiers and storage trunks.
LCD played a varied setlist that would please general concertgoers and hardcore fans (like me) just the same. It was nice to see them bring out the underappreciated “Home” and “You Wanted A Hit” from their masterpiece album “This is Happening.” At the same time, I loved hearing their recent single “New Body Rhumba” (from Noah Baumbach’s “White Noise” movie) and the classic “Daft Punk is Playing in My House” — though it was not hard to notice that the former is a skilled rewrite of the latter.
However, it was the closing three songs that sealed the deal for me. “New York, I Love You But You’re Bringing Me Down,” “Dance Yrself Clean” and “All My Friends” were simply the best live performances I had seen all year. The Broadway melodrama of “New York, I Love You But You’re Bringing Me Down” was especially effective; the band turned one of their most cathartic pieces into a transcendent concert experience, complete with synchronized flashing lights and furious cymbal crashes.
The neurotic “Dance Yrself Clean” is perhaps the band’s signature song, featuring their greatest drop. In fact, each time the drop’s piercing drum fill and bouncy synth cut through the mix, the crowd went absolutely wild. The performance of this track also served as a showcase of the band’s maximalist visual presentation. There were massive flashes of blue and red light each time the chorus hit, and, due to the band’s physical closeness on stage, it felt like a party.
But “All My Friends” is the peak of both their discography and the first day of Re:SET. The song features a beautiful looped piano line indebted, strangely enough, to contemporary classical à la Phillip Glass — but the underlying dance groove is relentless.
The lyrics are utterly poetic. In recounting a nostalgic party, lead singer Murphy says, “And so it starts / You switch the engine on / We set controls for the heart of the sun / One of the ways that we show our age,” throwing in a Pink Floyd reference on top of a perfect description of the bittersweet naïvety of adolescence. Suffice it to say that, as an accumulation of nearly seven hours of performance, “All My Friends” effortlessly stuck the landing.
Re:SET may be a new event, but I certainly hope this isn’t its only festival season. It was a beautiful night that prioritized both the artists performing and the dedicated fans listening. When James Murphy crooned “And to tell the truth / Oh, this could be the last time / So here we go” at the end of “All My Friends,” a sense of artistic immediacy became palpable in the crowd. Everyone couldn’t help but feel it.
Editor’s Note: This article is a review and includes subjective thoughts, opinions and critiques.