Return To New York? Anytime, if LCD Soundsystem are hosting.
It’s a punky funky world round Shoreditch. Just beyond the furthest Southern reaches of London’s self-proclaimed enclave of cool stands the Great Eastern Hotel, a once-tatty edifice by Liverpool Street station now refurbished by Terence Conran into something cool and plush. Call it Hoxton deluxe. Not the most obvious gig venue in the world, tonight the Great Eastern Hotel playing host to ‘Return To New York’, a party celebrating Gotham’s current rock’n’roll renaissance.
And right now, that means punk funk. The past couple of weeks have seen both Radio 4 and The Rapture bring their much improved live shows to these shores, indoctrinating the uninitiated into the joys of melding deep disco to trebly guitars, like wot they did in NYC in the early ’80s. So ‘Return To New York’ boasts a mixture of the new New York (a DJ set by Princess Superstar; LCD Soundsystem’s debut live performance) and the old New York (DJ sets by Arthur Baker and Jellybean, creators of legendary mid-Eighties remixes for New Order and Madonna respectively).
First, however, we must mention the crowd. Dressed up isn’t in it – this lot look like survivors from an explosion at Harvey Nicholls. There are Prada boots and cable knit jumpers – worn together, obviously. There is hair shaved on one side and long at the other. There are sunglasses worn at night and people whose style icon is clearly DJ Hell. The ‘bourgeoise lady’ dress gets another airing, this time worn over jeans, and one man boasts a leather arm piece (left the falcon outside did you, mate?). Even Princess Superstar is rocking a brand new, Gwen Stefani-style, vertiginous platinum blonde hairdo.
In other words, it’s a special occasion. And in a dark anteroom to the cavernous – and drastically overlit – main dancefloor, a nervous James Murphy takes the stage. As those who have been paying attention will know, Murphy is the punk funk Pharell Williams. As half of production team DFA (Rapture, Black Dice, Radio 4), he’s created and defined the new sound of the underground. As LCD Soundsystem, he’s given the movement its anthem in the shape of this year’s wonderful single ‘Losing My Edge’. And here he is, dressed down in a washed-out Oxford University T-shirt and jeans, intoning “you and you and you” into the microphone by way of a soundcheck, before ripping, with his hip-looking four-piece band, into ‘Thrills’.
It’s like a collision between Motown and the Happy Mondays, with extra-wired, teeth-grinding nervous energy. Over a bone-rattling funk jam, Murphy demands “I need my Prozac, I need my pills!” like a Manhattan Mark E Smith. New single ‘Give It Up’ cranks up the intensity, Murphy rattling at a cowbell as a fashionista moshpit brews. The strangely titled ‘DP Is Playing At My House’ echoes The Fall again (specifically their batty version of Northern Soul standard ‘There’s A Ghost In My House’) and like the Mancunian post-punk heroes it’s insistent, feral and thrilling. Things take a more pop turn with ‘Tribulations’, an electronically driven dance tune with a bouncy electroclash bassline, before Murphy announces “we have two other songs that are different to the four we’ve played”.
There’s an uncomfortable pregnant pause, then a nose-bleeding barrage of feedback, guitar squalling and general freaking out. Just as heavily mascara’d eyes start to flicker to the exits, it gives way to a tinny hip hop beat. It’s ‘Losing My Edge’! It’s brilliant! And Murphy remembers all the lyrics – no mean feat when it’s a hilarious, complicated, eight-minute rap in the character of a paranoid hipster. By now, lipgloss is melting all over the floor and the smells wafting by have changed from marijuana, to poppers, to good old fashioned sweat.
A final track ‘Tired’, in which Murphy screams “I don’t need your rock’n’roll” over a heavy post-punk thrash makes it a full house, six out of six of the sexiest, most exciting songs you could currently wish to dance to. Return To New York? Anytime, if LCD Soundsystem are hosting.