It’s been seven years since LCD Soundsystem played their last show in Philadelphia, a particularly memorable date at the Navy Yard when the New York band was touring for their 2010 album This Is Happening.
Less than a year later, the band made a big deal of calling it quits, playing what was billed as a farewell date at Madison Square Garden that ended with leader James Murphy, then barely in 40s, doddering off into self-imposed retirement.
It came as no surprise then that, like Frank Sinatra and Jay-Z, Murphy’s time away from the stage — during which his wife, Christina Topsoe, gave birth — turned out to be relatively brief. LCD returned, first with a series of festival dates last year and then a new album, American Dream, this summer.
And yet, absence really does make the heart grow fonder. Anticipation was keen Tuesday night as the disco-punk band gathered beneath a mirror ball in Fishtown for the first of three consecutive sold-out shows at the Fillmore, a venue that, as Murphy noted from the stage, didn’t even exist last time they were in town.
As returns from exile go, LCD’s has been well-plotted and is proceeding according to plan. It’s not a mere nostalgia trip. American Dream finds Murphy in top form, expressing a healthy amount of anxiety and dread about his inner life and the state of the outside world over suitably jittery beats.
At the Fillmore, LCD were eight strong. The 47-year-old gray-stubbled Murphy entered wearing a suit jacket he soon tossed and a white T-shirt, an outfit your dad might wear while watching football in his Barcalounger.
To be sure, getting old — and older than his mostly millennial audience — is front and center on Murphy’s mind. “I’ve got nothing left to say,” he sang into his trademark vintage microphone Tuesday in the angsty “Change Yr Mind.”
“I’m not dangerous now, the way I used to be once.”
Self-referential commentary in songs that seem almost to come with their own footnotes is LCD standard operating procedure. In another American Dream song, “Tonite,” Murphy referred to himself as “the hobbled veteran of the disc shop inquisition,” recalling a time when you actually had to go to the store to buy music, and referred to “my own late era middle-aged ramblings.”
But what makes Murphy’s musings compelling, of course, is the band’s music, which brings his twitchy, nervous energy to life in arrangements that draw on the trancey elements of German motorik electronic music, 1970’s American disco, and the Talking Heads.
There were a lot of keyboards on stage at the Fillmore, many of them played by Nancy Whang, Murphy’s right-hand woman and principal vocal partner, whose occasional rapping recalls Debbie Harry’s in Blondie, an essential New York band of a previous generation. But there were also live bass, guitar and drums, plus a plethora — to use a vocabulary word Murphy employed in his stage patter — of percussion devices deployed by the singer and the other instrument-switching players.
Like any excellent dance band, LCD are masters of repetition and subtle variation. Some tracks build to noisy climaxes and impassioned outbursts, like “Emotional Haircut,” an American Dream cut included in the four-song encore.
(Note: Oddly, the set list did not include the title track from the new album. Oh, well, they have two more nights to get around to it.)
Murphy kept his between-songs comments to a minimum, though he did thank Philly deejay (and Making Time promoter) Dave P., who warmed up the crowd in anticipation of the headliner’s arrival at 9 p.m. sharp. And the songwriter-producer, who was raised in Princeton Junction, did recall an uneventful period when he lived in Philadelphia at Fourth and Fitzwater in 1987.
There was no talk of the band’s absence for most of this decade, but the enthusiasm with which the two-hour set was received made the affection between performer and audience clear. And that was particularly true as Murphy and crew reached back into their catalog during the encores.
“Dance Yrself Clean,” from This Is Happening, got the dance floor moving like ping-pong balls in a lottery machine with its squiggly keyboard lines that gave way to heavy-duty block-rockin’ beats, sounding simultaneously unstoppable and rickety, an impressive edifice that’s in danger of crumbling at any moment.
And the closer, “All My Friends,” pulled from 2007’s Sound of Silver, its steady pulsing riff quickly building to ecstatic release. White light lit up the room, people pogoed, and the recently unretired singer repeatedly exulted about how grand life would be “if I could see all of my friends tonight.” That wish was granted to Murphy on Tuesday, and he’ll have two more nights of it in Philadelphia this week.