Now in audiobook form!
There are moments in our lives when we figure out what we’re supposed to do. It can be something large, like a larger calling, or it can be something small, like knowing exactly what to have for dinner one night. I generally don’t have those moments. I don’t know if it’s fate or my own actions standing in the way. It’s probably the latter if I’m to be honest. Nonetheless, I’ve had one of those moments. While it may seem small and insignificant to you, it’s one of, if not the biggest, moment of my life. Of course I’m talking about the time I took a trip to New York City to see my favorite band: LCD Soundsystem.
I should really back up a little to explain this. I came into LCD’s career late. In fact, it was just a month or two before they released “This Is Happening,” which would be their last album. I actually started with their second album, “Sound of Silver,” and it was as if a veil had been lifted before my eyes. Well, it’s more like ears, but work with me here. Instantaneously I fell in love. It was like nothing I’d heard before.
I pride myself on having a wide taste in music. On any given day I could start with Jay-Z, move to AC/DC, stop by Frank Sinatra’s house and end up with Sly & The Family Stone. Even still, LCD Soundsystem changed things for me. Every song on “Sound of Silver” was like a mini-revelation. Each song was so clearly hand-crafted that it felt like it was made just for me. James Murphy’s never had the greatest voice, but it’s obvious that he means what he sings. It’s very evident in the all-time classic ‘All My Friends.’
‘All My Friends’ is a song that never leaves you; it’s a song that grows a deeper and stronger connection with each listen. It’s a song about growing up and it’s a song about remembering what keeps you grounded. It’s songs like ‘All My Friends’ that help make LCD Soundsystem the powerhouse that they are.
That powerhouse started with their double-disc eponymous debut, also the second album I listened to. “LCD Soundsystem” was just as much of a musical revelation as “Sound of Silver” had been. It’s always interesting to go back to the first album and listen to how all over the place it is. That isn’t to say that any of it is bad. In fact, I dare to say LCD Soundsystem’s never made anything less than a perfect album, or at least near-perfect. It’s that on the first album James Murphy was still figuring out what he wanted to do.
There’s the second disc opener of ‘Losing My Edge’ in which James Murphy sing-speaks about trying to keep his relevance in the ever changing music scene. Then there’s the grand nine-minute track that is ‘Yeah (Crass Version),’ in which Murphy sings about the never-changing music scene that people always complain about but never change. It’s a song that still rings true today. It’s a varied album that jams as hard now as it did when first released.
The same goes for “This Is Happening.” “This Is Happening” was fittingly the last album from LCD I heard. It’s a 66-minute realm of bliss. The album kicks off with ‘Dance Yrself Clean,’ an album opener if there ever was one. It starts off somewhat calm with nice conga drums, bringing you into the thematic nature of the album. The album’s full of things “ending” and “changing.” Then at three minutes and five seconds the synths kick in and the song’s energy roars at you for thinking the song would stay slow. It’s a nice way to drop you headfirst into the album. The album keeps that pace up the entire length. It’s somewhat varied like the first album, with a range of David Bowie ‘Heroes’-esque guitars on ‘All I Want’ to the slow, crawling Iggy Pop infested ‘Somebody’s Calling Me.’ If there had to be a studio album to end on, “This Is Happening” is a kind way to go.
As I played all three albums ad nauseum through the summer and winter, I was oblivious to the news that LCD Soundsystem had once almost split after “Sound of Silver.” If only I had been prepared for what was to come.
The day was February 5, 2011. It was a nice Saturday, not too hot and not too cold. I had just gotten back from seeing The King’s Speech, which did not deserve to beat The Social Network at the Oscars, but that’s another story for another time. Regardless of the film not deserving Best Picture, it’s a feel good movie and it had completely worked on me.
I sat down, took off my shoes and cranked up the laptop. I was ready to let the rest of the day ease on by me when I noticed the internet was aflutter with news about LCD Soundsystem. I decided to check it out when there it was. There’s something about when you get bad news that makes you not know how to react. Do you get angry? Sad? Hurt? It was a weird experience when I read the headline on LCD’s website: “lcd’s last show! at madison square garden!!!!!!!”
I didn’t know what to do, but I read it a few times. I hoped it was a really early April Fool’s joke, but each time I read it, it rang truer and truer. The article said that the group would be playing one last time at Madison Square Garden on April 2nd, 2011. I checked the calendar and sure enough that date was a Saturday. Not only could I get to see LCD before they went kaput, but I’d finally make it to New York City as well.
See I’ve always had a love for New York City. It’s not even really something I can explain, it’s more something that just is. There’s something about the big city that draws out the dreamer in me, and NYC is certainly *the* big city. I love the lights, the sounds, the cars, the nature in which people move through the city heading towards their goals for the day. Everything about that city draws me in, even the trash problem. And yeah, there’s still a trash problem centuries after its creation.
In the moment I noticed April 2nd being a Saturday I knew exactly what I needed to do. I didn’t know how I was going to do it, but I knew that going to that show was my destiny and I needed to reach for it. Tickets were to go on sale February 11th, so I had a little bit of time to figure out what I was going to do.
I ran out into the kitchen where my mom was doing dishes and rambled out the news I’d just received. I knew I was going to need financial help so I asked her if I could go. She just asked, “Well how are you going to pay for it?”
I didn’t know what to say. I knew my birthday was coming up, so some form of money was going to be coming in. And I had some money left over from Christmas that could probably cover the concert ticket. So I just told her, “I don’t know.”
“Well, we’ll see.”
And I knew in that moment, as I knew that I was to be at the concert, that I was on my own. A “we’ll see” is a lot different than a “maybe.” I wasn’t going to let that stop me. I was going to that concert; I just needed to figure out how.
I started to think of ways to come up with quick cash. I thought of it all. I could start dealing drugs or selling plasma, but that wasn’t going to happen. I finally decided to ask for help from people, sell them on my hopes and dreams. I sold off some games and my old iPod. I wasn’t going to get much from it all, but every bit helped me get further to NYC and MSG.
Two people came to my aid. It makes sense that those two are very dear to me. My friend Crystal, a fellow college student, pitched in a bit of money. And there was Jason, a man with a wife and three kids to support that bought some games off me. Both of them giving money to my newly founded “Get Me to the Garden” drive. The name might have been inspired by Get Him to the Greek. Maybe.
That money wasn’t just financial, though. That money represented hope and belief in me being able to actually make it up north. It was money I’m forever grateful for and still feel compelled to repay them for.
That money also came to my aid once I ran into the scalpers.
On February 11th, I skipped class just to buy tickets. However, something went really, really wrong. The tickets sold out in a matter of seconds. Many people weren’t even able to be denied for minutes. Yet again the internet was aflutter. Hundreds and thousands were confused as to what happened. Some claim scalpers swooped in and grabbed them. Some say LCD did it themselves to drive up demand, which is one of the dumbest things I’ve ever heard. Regardless of what really happened, tons were screwed, including me.
Within hours StubHub was covered in tickets for the show. A few kind souls put up tickets at face value, but most upcharged severely. The upcharge was anywhere to $20 to $600 and above. James Murphy wasn’t the happiest person in the world about this. And you can’t blame him (obviously, I know). It was if you’d just had your cat run over and your arm was caught in a wood chipper at the same time. That’s only a slight exaggeration.
It was another setback against me, but it didn’t stop me. Nor was anything else going to stand in my way.
I’d gotten the birthday money as planned, but it wasn’t quite enough. I wasn’t going to be eating on this trip. I had enough for a ticket and a plane. However, I didn’t have a ride to the airport or a ride home from it. By this point Mom had gotten fed up with me blabbering on and on about it. I don’t fault her for that. I don’t even think I understand just what it meant to me, although I have ideas.
More shows were announced not too soon after the ticket fiasco. The hope was to drive the April 2nd prices down and to give more fans one last chance to say goodbye. I thought about going to one of those shows at Terminal 5. They wouldn’t be the *last* show, but it’d be a show nonetheless. Alas they were all during the week, of course. Ticket prices for the last show on StubHub didn’t budge either.
It was hard to keep going, but I pushed on through. I’d come this far, why stop now? Luckily I didn’t and Mom’s will finally broke. She had watched a commercial for McDonald’s or somebody that gave off the message of making sure to spend time with your family. Somehow this convinced her of letting me go. There was a catch, though: she had to come with me. I told her I didn’t care. If she went, that’s fine. If she didn’t, I was still going. At least the ride situation was fixed. Thanks, McDonald’s.
All I had to do was buy my concert ticket and my plane ticket. She was going to buy her plane ticket, food and a hotel room. That was fine by me. It’s exactly what I did, too.
I don’t like StubHub. They let “fans” sell tickets for outrageous prices. A real fan wouldn’t charge another fan an upcharge of 100%. As much as I didn’t want to, I bought a ticket from there (with a StubHub fee of $20 tacked on). It was a seat in the 400 levels, the nosebleeds. I didn’t care, though. I was going to see LCD Soundsystem at Madison Square Garden on April 2, 2011. Except my ticket didn’t come.
I like Stubhub. They have this policy that if the ticket doesn’t arrive or if you get to the gate and it’s a fraud, they’ll find you a new ticket or refund every cent to your bank account. So when my ticket sat waiting to ship for two weeks, I started getting nervous. I called up StubHub and explained the situation. Not only did I get a new ticket, I got an even better ticket in the 300s. Thanks, StubHub, even if you let “fans” rip off fans.
This was finally becoming a reality, and on April 2, it did. We left Tallahassee in the morning and arrived into Newark, New Jersey in the afternoon. It didn’t quite hit me until we were taking the train from the Newark airport to the trains that would take us into the city. It was then while seeing the skyscrapers in the distance that I truly caught on to the events surrounding me.
After months of planning, and some panicking, I walked out of Pennsylvania Station into Manhattan. A 19-year long dream had come to fruition, by my making, mostly. Not only that, but a slightly smaller dream was going to come true in just a few hours. Coming out of Pennsylvania Station doesn’t show an illustrious sight, but it still felt like coming home.
We stumbled through the surrounding area trying to find the hotel. The difficulty of finding the hotel wasn’t so much from a lack of knowledge but rather me being googly eyed over everything I saw. The hotel was just across the street from Madison Square Garden and just a block or so from the Empire State Building, which stood tall as if telling me, “See Kevin, look at what you’ve accomplished.”
The Hotel Pennsylvania has a really nice lobby. It’s quite open feeling for an enclosed space. Well, that’s how memory serves it. Notice how I only said lobby? There’s a reason for that. Upon arriving to our floor, it was if we had teleported to the Overlook Hotel. With the lighting as drab and dark as it was, I was expecting Jack Torrence or the twins to pop out around a corner. Then there was the luxurious and oh so spacious room itself. That wasn’t sarcasm. Nope. I really shouldn’t complain, though. It was the cheapest hotel right by the station and MSG, so all in all it wasn’t too bad.
After we managed to get up to our room and not be axed to death, Mom and I headed out into the great wilderness. There was a slight chill to the air as we roamed a few blocks north from the hotel. I didn’t really have a destination as we walked, I was just taking in the sights; I was taking in home. Before long Mom started complaining about being hungry, so we went back the way we came and headed into the Tick Tock Diner. While I would have much rather gone to a food truck or something a little more “New York,” I wasn’t gonna make a fuss because after all, she did give me a ride to the airport.
I’d like to take a moment to detour this tale and discuss just how good NYC’s water is. I hate water, I really do. Where people say water has no taste, I try not to gag as I drink a glass. Water does nothing for me. Actually that’s not true because it makes me sick to my stomach. Having said that, to drink water from NYC is to drink water from the Heavens. That’s actually not too far from the truth as it rolls down from the Catskill Mountains. Now back to our regularly scheduled programming.
When we got back to the room, it was time for me to actually re-leave the room. The time had finally come. James Murphy had suggested everyone wear all black, all white or both. So I strolled across 7th Avenue in a black shirt, black slacks and white sneakers. It’s amazing how big Madison Square Garden is. It takes up the entire block and actually has stores attached to it. And that was before the renovations.
I really should have gone in sooner. By the time I made it to the line to buy a shirt, most of them were gone. All they had were shirts that weren’t really gonna fit, but by this point you should know that wasn’t going to stop me. So I handed over $30 for a shirt that doesn’t exactly fit, but it does read “LCD Soundsystem Last Show April 2 2011 Liquid Liquid + Special Guests Madison Square Garden.” It’s even in an orange lightning bolt, so not all was lost.
I don’t know if it’s my fault or Madison Square Garden’s fault, but I almost walked in the wrong gates. I’m just gonna blame MSG. Shame on you, MSG. After roaming around the Garden trying to actually get in, I’d made it. I had arrived to Section 303, Row F Seat 11. It was a nice seat, a seat that I miss greatly.
There were already quite a few people down in the general admission section, including many who started the dance party early. It’s really special watching MSG fill up. There were thousands and thousands of people slowly making their way to their seat as I had. Just as expected, there was a bittersweet taste in the air. Sure James Murphy and the gang were going out their way, and on the peak of their game, but who wants to say goodbye? Quite a few people wanted to say goodbye actually. Quite a few had done so the entire week before at the T5 shows.
Those people who saw the Monday and Tuesday T5 concerts had something in common with me: Liquid Liquid. While I still don’t quite understand Liquid Liquid, it was nice of them to help me pass the time. Finally at just after nine, 10cc’s ‘I’m Not In Love’ started playing and the crowd erupted knowing the time had arrived.
As the band filled the stage, the bittersweet nature has dissipated. For that time, there was only sweet. Of course there was no other song for them to begin with than ‘Dance Yrself Clean.’ The concert wasn’t a funeral, it was a celebration and ‘Dance Yrself Clean’ is a perfect way to kick off a celebration. At that three minutes and five seconds mark, the synths kicked in and so did the crowd.
With a roar as loud as the music, over ten thousand people began to jump and dance in the seats, the rows and the aisles. The energy of the crowd was a feast in of itself. Whenever I felt tired from dancing, all I had to do was look at the people next to me and vibe off of their energy.
We, the patrons of this celebration, were promised an over three-hour long concert that would span LCD’s entire career. That’s exactly what we were delivered, too. Just in the first set, they eased through the aforementioned ‘Dance Yrself Clean,’ and also ‘I Can Change,’ ‘Get Innocuous,’ and more. The highlight of that first act, and almost the entire show, was deep into ‘All My Friends.’ As Murphy belted out, “To tell the truth/this could be the last time,” the crowd, me included, roared up as one. It’s a moment that no one would, or even could, ever forget.
Sadly the first set had to end at some point, so I ventured out into the halls of MSG. If there’s something I can only recommend to do in emergencies, it’s paying $5 for a bottle of water that will then be poured into a cup. Yeah, I don’t understand it either. This was certainly an emergency, though, as I could already feel my throat getting warm and there was still over two hours to go.
By the time I got the cup of water, they’d come back on stage and had moved on to Set Two. Now Set Two is something pretty special. Back before “Sound of Silver” had come out, LCD had been hired by Nike to record workout music. The outcome of that was “45:33,” an (almost all) instrumental track. Never before the T5 shows, and obviously MSG, had it been played live. Set Two consisted of not just “45:33,” but also ‘Sound of Silver’ blended in and a guest appearance by the amazingly talented Reggie Watts. Even with some audio mixing problems in the latter portions of “45:33,” it was still a nice spectacle. When looked at in the perspective of the world, only a few people have seen “45:33” performed and I’m one of them.
The night was flying by; what had been hours felt like seconds. Even though we were heading into the third act, no one was ready to give up just yet, including LCD. They kicked off the third set with ‘Us vs Them,’ which got the crowd back up tempo. Right after that was another one of those special treats.
LCD has a song, ‘North American Scum,’ that deals with the way outside countries, namely Canada, looks at America and vice versa. In an effort to bring peace to the world, four members of Arcade Fire were introduced on stage to sing backup vocals. What followed was a rousing version of ‘North American Scum’ that is all I can hear while listening to the studio version. There’s something about the horns on stage and Arcade Fire really digging into the vocals that drove the song further than it’d ever gone before.
The interesting thing about that third set is that Arcade Fire wasn’t even the greatest thing about it. No, the best thing about that set was songs bleeding into other songs. They started with ‘Bye Bye Bayou,’ then moved to ‘You Wanted A Hit,’ ‘Tribulations,’ ‘Movement,’ and finished with ‘Yeah (Crass Version),’ without breaking a sweat. There was a sheer beauty to the way everything flowed, to the way that, much like the crowd, everything was brought into one singular being. Not to mention the time Aziz Ansari was crowd-surfing during ‘Yeah.’ Yeah, that happened.
There’s a bit of a debate over whether the third set ended with ‘Yeah,’ or if it continued with the ending at ‘Home.’ It doesn’t really matter, though, because as Murphy made his way through his record collection at the end of ‘Losing My Edge,’ so did the crowd. Murphy then belted out ‘Home,’ and we all knew what was next: the last three songs to ever be played by LCD Soundsystem.
The bittersweet taste had come back. We all knew it was coming but it was something no one wanted to think about. I had looked at the setlists from earlier in the week and knew the last three songs. They were all worthy of being the end.
They kicked it off with one of my personal favorites, ‘All I Want.’ Seeing that song live is different than hearing it off of “This Is Happening.” You get more of a rounded out sound with the guitar that wails in the studio version almost becoming backdrop. They then headed into the wonderful cover of Harry Nilsson’s ‘Jump Into The Fire.’ It was a rocking song to keep the crowd heading into the grand finale.
When Murphy announced that the next song would be the last, the crowd erupted in sounds of sorrow and grief. Murphy quickly changed that around when he declared, “Okay, let me point this out, that even now at the end of our band, I didn’t fucking say that so you’d say ‘Oh noo.’ It wasn’t a false, it wasn’t ‘This is our last song, ohhh.’ This is our last song!”
Just as there was no other song for them to open with, there was nothing for them to close out their career with than ‘New York, I Love You, But You’re Bringing Me Down.’ The song had always been their magnum opus and the love letter to New York almost took on a new meaning that night. The song, the night, the career had to end at some point. And as it did tears were shed and giant balloons rained down from the sky. It was a beautiful ending to a band that had touched so many. It was a beautiful ending to a band that had touched me, and still continues to do so.
I exited the Garden not with a sense of sadness or a sense of dread. I left MSG that morning with a sense of proudness. I had a sense of pride in having been a part of a night so special; of a band so special. I went across the street back to the Overlook Hotel. It hurt, but I couldn’t help but smile.
The next morning Mom and I got up early and headed over to the Empire State Building. I’ve no shame in saying that as I looked out upon the concrete jungle, tears came to my eyes. Much in the same way James had built LCD, man had built NYC by hand. It’s civilization embodied by billions of buildings. It was civilization embodied by the melting pot that is NYC.
We left after a while and walked up to Times Square. Times Square is equally breathtaking and gross. Much in the same way the Empire State Building and its views represent something larger, Times Square has meaning as well. As much as it’s the epitome of America’s obsession with goods and services, it also shows just how far America has grown from just being a few settlers. Hunger was growing inside, so we hoofed it all the way back down to the Flatiron Building.
In Madison Square Park, there’s a magical place. This magical place holds hamburgers as juicy as water is wet; shakes as thick as molasses. This magical place also actually has a name. I’m talking about Shake Shack. It’s an incredible little shack that’s entirely worth the trip and the money. A strawberry custard shake was a pleasant way to help ease the end of a dream I knew had been coming since I planned it.
Mom had banged up her knee and couldn’t quite walk back up to Pennsylvania Station, so we grabbed a cab, one I got on the first try. Yes, I’m very proud of that. As we stood outside of the station’s doors, I didn’t want to go in. This place had been home all weekend. It had been home in a way that Tallahassee had never been. Leaving this place was the exact opposite of what I wanted to do. And if I’d had a single penny to my name, I would have stayed.
I didn’t have a penny, though.
Even though I was leaving home, I still felt proud in the same way I had the night before. I had completed a 19-year long dream. I’d gone to see LCD Soundsystem on the night they ended. I saw a concert at Madison Square Garden. I’d stood in the middle of Times Square. I saw the lights, heard the sounds and felt the vibes of the city in a way any piece of media can’t quite capture.
Sometimes I get asked by people what it was like being at the show by myself. To that I always respond the same way, “I wasn’t. I was with thousands of my closest friends.” And when people ask why I dropped so much money on a weekend trip to New York City, all I can think of is, “It’s what I needed to do. And I was there.”
As James Murphy once sang in ‘Dance Yrself Clean,’ it was the end of an era, it’s true.