It was 7:15 p.m. on Friday, May 4, and it seemed as if the entire county of Los Angeles was sardined into the Hollywood Bowl. The crowd buzzed with an electric current even LA’s most apathetic cool kids could psychically perceive. It was impossible not to radiate: LCD Soundsystem and Yeah Yeah Yeahs were performing together for the first time, despite running in the same NYC indie rock circle. For those who’ve been fans since the early 2000s, it was a night of existential nostalgia; like scrolling through an album of Polaroid’s from the last 18 years of your life. For those who found the light more recently, it was an evening of pure transcendence—the kind of experience most people go to church for.
“LCD Soundsystem Vs. Yeah Yeah Yeahs” read the marquee outside the Bowl and screens inside the venue. Although the two bands emerged from the same city, they never competed against each other, perse. LCD was always more synth and disco-driven; while Yeah Yeah Yeahs were rough around the edges, appealing to a more underground punk rock crowd. They assumed yin and yang roles to each other, providing balance to a scene that eventually faded; a trending world they both endured. That sense of balance was tangible on Friday—from the performances to the fans. For once the relentless rivalry between LA and New York was blown into freefalling confetti thanks to the unifying power of music.
Yeah Yeah Yeah’s took the stage just as the sun set behind the Bowl. Goddess of a frontwoman Karen Orzolek, better known as Karen O., stepped on stage in a silver glitter jacket accented by rhinestone studded sunglasses as the beginning bars to “Rich” poured through the speakers. People in line for alcohol ditched the wait and raced to their seats—including me.
“Rich,” the first song from their debut album, Fever To Tell, was my introduction to Karen O. I was 16 years old and attending a hyper-conservative Catholic high school in San Juan Capistrano. I was terrified of Karen’s rawness. I’d never heard a woman scream like the grim reaper. I’d never considered the possibility the grim reaper could be a woman. Their music was hard for me to digest. It was harsh, unpolished, fast, a little synth-y, dark and completely different than anyone my age in south Orange County was listening to. I felt like I was breaking the rules just listening to them. I thought the people I knew would think my soul was possessed for listening to Yeah Yeah Yeahs.
But on a level I couldn’t yet understand, I was intrinsically drawn to them. It was like drinking alcohol at that age: you knew it was bad but that didn’t stop you from wanting to do it. Karen O fascinated me because she was bad, and she made me feel like it was good to be bad—a supremely taboo ideology for a sophomore, and one I soon adopted. It was her glowing rock n’ roll aura that drew me in like a lost moth to a burning flame. And to this damn day, I’m still a moth to her fire.
Before guitarist Nick Zinner shifted to the fast, heavy chorus of “Rich,” Karen already deep throated the microphone, whipped the floor with the mic cord and swung around her dark, shaggy hair. She jumped in circles, screamed and reveled in the power of her bands energizing sound.
Yeah Yeah Yeahs performed a collection of bangers. From “Phenomena” to “Zero” to “Heads Will Roll” to “Black Tongue” and “Maps,” they had the Bowl singing, pumping their fists and swinging their hair around like Karen—yes, even the long-haired dudes in the venue. While drummer Brian Chase queued the intro of “Gold Lion” Karen paid hilarious tribute to legendary frontman Freddy Mercury by chanting the lyrics, “We will, we will rock you!” The Bowl roared with laughter, as did Karen and her bandmates.
The wild frontwoman belted the ballads just like she screamed the fast songs, blasting the crowd with a high voltage set. She’s easily the best female frontwoman of our time—and arguably the best contemporary lead singer/ rock performer in general.
But perhaps Ms. O’s most badass feature is the fact she’s a mother of a two-and-a-half-year-old son. This occurred to me during “Date With The Night,” the last song of their set, as she ninja kicked, jumped, spinned, screamed and swung the microphone by its cord over her head—and then lowered the mic into her mouth. She wore a black cape during the finale, adding to the vampiress style that she rocks so well.
Her stage presence hasn’t been phased by the difficulties of motherhood. Karen hardly displayed any signs of fatigue throughout the set—and to say her performances are cardio forward is an understatement. By the end of “Date With The Night”, she repeatedly slammed her microphone on the ground, in true punk rock fashion, before gracefully leaving the stage. Her rugged style hasn’t changed. Her son has the coolest mom, ever.
LCD Soundsystem promptly walked on stage at 9:15, opening with one of their grooviest nine-minute songs, “You Wanted A Hit” off This Is Happening. James Murphy stood in front of the microphone oozing sass. Unlike the energy of Karen O, Murphy’s stage presence was more refined, a little more slick and less of an aerobics routine. But that balance is exactly what made the show so stellar.
LCD played five sold-out shows in LA last November, all of which earned joyous reviews. But it seemed everyone was under the impression the band was only reuniting for a short while—not getting back together indefinitely. Like Niyaz Pirani explains in his analytical review of LCD’s string of Palladium shows, everyone looks to the past when they think (or review) of LCD— not the future. And in defense of reviewers who did (or do) this, it’s hard not to look backward, considering LCD captures the essence of nostalgia with gut-wrenching precision. It’s hard not to get lost in the sea of emotions during songs like “Someone Great”, “Home” or “All My Friends.” But LCD is back and they’re not fucking around. Their show last Friday night was the most polished I’ve ever seen them (and I’ve seen them eight times since 2010), and solid evidence–if not proof– they have long-term goals for the LCD project.
A massive disco party ensued between sections M and R. The walkway was slammed with people jumping up and down, and grooving to “I Can Change.” A young man and woman stood in a long embrace staring deeply into each other’s eyes, somehow unscathed from the dance party chaos around them. “I love you so much, Meesh,” the guy said (presumably) to his girlfriend. “You are my best friend.” Meesh hugged him even closer. “You’re my best friend, too, I love you!”
Not only does LCD’s music encapsulate nostalgia, it’s also the music of connection and love. People love the shit out of each other at LCD shows—whether strangers or lovers. For example, at LCD’s last show at the Palladium back in November, a group of girls in the crowd next to my boyfriend and me kept telling us we were the most beautiful people they’d ever seen and grabbed us into their group to dance with them. They were (very kind and loving) vultures ready to pounce on us in the name of music. LCD is like a drug: you feel emotional, elated, giggly, wild, in love with everyone and everything around you, and as if life couldn’t get any better. With any mind-altering substance, though, you might not feel the way you did after the music stops– LCD is no different.
The waterworks flowed during “Someone Great.” My eyeliner dripped down my face. I cried again during “Home,” too. Some say LCD’s best feature is Murphys ability to convey life’s complex emotions. But I think it’s the opposite that makes them profound. Although the concepts of loss, love, death, and relationships are inherently web-like, Murphy doesn’t delve into the depths of these emotional wells, say, like, Thom Yorke does. Rather, Murphy’s able to pinpoint circumstances and emotions in life that people often overlook, like the fact “sometimes friends are mean” and remembering to look around you because we are surrounded by so much beauty and “it won’t get any better.” He writes about the little moments between lovers we’ve all experienced, but forget when everything’s said and done. He writes about the fear of falling behind in the world, feeling stupid and getting a bad haircut. Basically, he portrays the pains, insecurities, fears, and quirks of being human unlike anyone else—and he makes us feel it.
LCD performed “How Do You Sleep” for the first time off their latest album American Dream. They also played “I Want Your Love” an epic CHIC cover. Murphy complained about the Bowl’s 11 p.m. curfew—as literally every performer does. But he finished out the night with “All My Friends” and “New York, I Love You But You’re Bringing Me Down,” at which point everyone in the Bowl had their arms around each other, swaying back and forth with fists in the air.
The night LCD and Yeah Yeah Yeahs played together will go down in music nerd history as one of the best performances of 2018. “I’m really happy the Yeah Yeah Yeahs and LCD played together, but I think the Yeah Yeah Yeahs should have closed out the night,” said a young woman wearing wine red lipstick. “Whatever, though, we are the luckiest people in the world to have witnessed this show tonight. The music gods blessed us.”