LCD Soundsystem serves inspired dance grooves


May 21, 2005


Before the start of a sold-out Metro gig Friday, James Murphy fiddled with the bass drum mike, and during the show, he often gestured to the soundman or walked over to the monitor mixer to offer what you have to assume were "constructive criticisms."

Murphy will always be first and foremost a recording engineer and producer, more comfortable capturing and polishing sounds than delivering them. But as the leader of his labor-of-love side project, LCD Soundsystem, he also is an inspired songwriter, a master of irresistible dance grooves delivered with punk-rock intensity, and a riveting frontman who pours every ounce of his being into a performance.

As the co-founder of Brooklyn's DFA Records and half of a vaunted production team with Tim Goldsworthy, Murphy has crafted hits for acclaimed underground dance acts Juan MacLean, the Rapture, UNKLE, Le Tigre and Radio 4. But he has temporarily left the recording console to support the eponymous Capitol Records debut by LCD Soundsystem, which features one disc of powerful new material and another compiling the singles he's recorded for fun in between production projects.

"Fun" is the key word here. At age 35, this indie-rock veteran and behind-the-scenes knob-twirler is clearly having the time of his life in the spotlight at center stage, performing to the biggest crowds of his career. The fans at Metro cheered wildly and danced with ecstatic abandon throughout the headliner's set as Murphy screamed, chanted, twitched and shimmied his way through indelible club hits such as "Daft Punk Is Playing in My House" and "Yeah."

In interviews, Murphy describes the touring version of the group the way a weekend warrior talks about his humble garage band. In fact, the combo was one of the tightest and most inventive dance-punk/art-rock ensembles I've ever seen, with bassist Tyler Pope delivering a massive but fluid bottom, keyboardist Nancy Whang and guitarist Phil Mossman decorating the grooves with a nonstop swirl of unique sounds, and Pat Mahoney serving as an unrelenting human beat box, as precise as any computer but with the soul of James Brown's greatest drummers.

When we talked a few weeks ago, a road-weary Murphy seemed eager to return to the comforts of his recording studio. But it will be a serious loss to the music scene if he doesn't take the occasional busman's holiday by touring with LCD Soundsystem again in the future, because the show is one that shouldn't be missed.

Opening on the current tour is another much-hyped club favorite, the British-born Sri Lankan MC M.I.A. The former Maya Arulpragasam was the darling of the London underground last year, thanks to her hit "Galang," and her strident though simplistic political lyrics are building a college-age audience that is just as enthusiastic here.

But though her debut album, "Arular," has its pleasures, the buzz isn't justified for M.I.A.'s live performances.

M.I.A. displayed plenty of energy dancing about the stage, and her musical partner, Diplo, delivered an inspired mix of Jamaican dancehall and Southern crunk sounds over which a better rapper could have shined. But M.I.A.'s cadences were repetitive and awkward, her voice was so weak that it would have disappeared if every lyric hadn't been doubled by her dynamic sidekick Cherry, and over the course of a 45-minute set, her predictable bubblegum/sing-song choruses moved from cute to cloying to downright torturous.