LCD vs Phish

Getting the Band Back Together

Today James Murphy published a lengthy blog article giving background to the recent announcement that he and the rest of LCD Soundsystem would be headlining Coachella this year. Fan responses have been mixed which is frequently the case once a band says “Goodbye”—especially one that did it so dramatically with a series of New York concerts in 2010 ending with a nearly 4 hour long show at MSG featuring every song they’d ever released.

So why am I so excited about referring to them in the present tense again after 5 years when I’ve been so reluctant to return to another band I used to love (Phish) upon their return following a similar goodbye concert? Naiveté?

Beginnings

The first and only time I saw LCD Soundsystem in concert was on a double billing with MIA at the 9:30 Club in Washington, DC. My wife was quite pregnant with our first daughter (who’s now 10) and we’ve always joked with her that it was her first concert. She doesn’t think we’re as amusing as we find ourselves.

To be honest, while I liked them at the time, I was more excited for MIA. That all changed when they started playing. It didn’t take long before they were one of my favorite bands.

The first time I saw Phish was during the summer between my junior and senior years of college in 1993. I had a good friend who was a huge fan and excited to share them with me. The show was just outside of DC at a venue called Wolf Trap—an outdoor performing arts venue that’s part of the National Park Service. It’s a beautiful place to see a show in the summer and this concert was no exception. It was the first of a run of twenty+ Phish shows I’d see over the next ten years and it’s still one of the best I’ve seen.

Want to see a list of the concerts I’ve seen?

5 or 10 Years

I saw Phish play in New York City, Hampton Virginia, Prague, Penn State, Washington DC, Oswego NY, at festivals (they don’t headline, it’s all Phish, all day) clubs, arenas, and college auditoriums. There was something about their instrumentation, the rhythms, and the sheer joy they conveyed when they played that was contagious. Their music seemed complex and rewarding—musically challenging by one measure, simplistic and silly by another. I was never attracted to the scene, it was always the music, the groove. I listened to a lot of other bands at the time, but these guys were on heavy rotation.

In 2004, ten or so years after my first show, Phish held a festival in Coventry, VT. We bought our tickets and made the pilgrimage. We had been to a few festivals in the past and we were going with our friends who were pros at the whole thing at this point, so we felt prepared for anything that we were going to have to deal with.

Except, perhaps, two solid weeks of rain that turned the entire festival grounds into a mud bog more appropriate for rice farming than parking cars or, say, walking.

festival grounds

Now, you may be thinking that every festival has a run-in with mud. Yes, they do. The singular difference here was that the band had leased farmland for this festival. Farmland that was soft, and rich, and full of… well, you know what they use to help plants grow, right?

We were some of the lucky ones who got into the festival before they started turning people away—if you consider having your car towed to the middle of a mud pit by a farmer in an oversized tractor because that’s the only way they can park your car “lucky.”

We found a relatively dry spot to set up our camp and made the best of it.  We were better prepared than most having a camping shower, the right footwear (we heard rumors of trench rot over the weekend), and enough food and water that we didn’t need to go anywhere or buy anything.

And then we went and listened to the most mediocre sets of music any of us had ever heard the band play.

We all knew at this point that the show was a goodbye. Trey had announced an official end to the band following years of intermittent haitus so we all knew it was over.  It was sad, but part of me felt like it was time. The band didn’t have that joy anymore, and neither did I.

After we left, I would occasionally pull out a show to listen to or throw on a scratched copy of Nectar or Farmhouse, but I had made a mental shift away from jam music for the most part, and they were the last jam band I was interested in.

One of the new bands I started hearing about was LCD Soundsystem.

I got that first double CD because Pitchfork made such a big deal about it and frankly, it sounded awesome. During one of my Tower Records music binge nights (Tuesday new releases!), I picked up my copy and it became a quick favorite.

We attended the aforementioned show, and they became even bigger. Their presence was huge. They filled the 9:30 club like no band I had ever seen. Their music was enormous, it was infectious, it was raw, it was danceable, it didn’t take itself too seriously, and it was exactly what I needed right at that moment.

Over the years as our daughter grew and we had a second, my career progressed, and we worked on making our house a home, new music from LCD Soundsystem was always a highlight—something we could both get excited about. Concerts were difficult, and the band would sell out before we could get tickets. We never saw them again live, in-person.

And before it was time, or rather before I was ready, they were hanging up their coats and calling it a day.

In 2010, the band announced that they had written all they were going to write, that they didn’t want to get any bigger, and so they’d go out with a bang: a big blow out at Madison Square Garden.  Of course I wanted to go. First tour, last tour… perfect bookends. Besides, they had essentially sountracked the prior 5 years of my life. How could I not?

Apparently I wasn’t alone.

Due to the overwhelming desire for tickets and the utter incompetence of the responsible ticketing agency, few got their golden ticket. So more shows were announced leading up to the big one. I tried to get seats for any of them and was unsuccessful.

The final show was broadcast over the internet, and we watched much of it’s terribly pixellated, awful sounding stream the night it happened. It was bittersweet. I really didn’t want it to end yet.

The Comeback

If you followed the Phish saga after that final show, you probably know that one of its members ended up with some drug problems that put him in rehab for a stint. Each of the members began solo careers or new bands. None of it really spoke to me. Partly because I was over Phish (kinda mad at them, but that’s silly), and partly because I didn’t really like the music they were producing all that much. I’m sure it’s great stuff, just not my thing.

In 2008 they announced a reunion tour for 2009. They’d be playing Hampton Coliseum, a mythic venue for Phish fans, and one I’d been to a few times. My friend called—did we want to go?

Nope.

If you followed LCD Soundsystem since they broke up, you’d have listened to Museum of Love, The Juan MacLean, or James Murphy remixing tennis matches for IBM.

Yesterday it was announced that they were playing Coachella. Today the band announced they have an album they’re working on and that they’re going to be doing more than playing Coachella—they’ll be doing a full tour.  Am I in?

Hell yes.

But Why?

I’ve thought about this a lot, and I think it boils down to a few things.

  1. I wasn’t ever finished with LCD Soundsystem.
    They hadn’t peaked yet, in my opinion. While I personally felt like This is Happening was a slight step back from Sound of Silver, it still felt like they had a lot to say. The sound was just maturing and for a band who only had 3.5 albums (does that Nike running thing count?) there seemed to be a huge space in which to play. Phish, however, had 10 studio albums under their belt, the last three of which were almost unlistenable to me. To my ear, they peaked at Farmhouse. By the time I went to the last show, I hadn’t heard them release music I was excited about in four years.
  2. Phish got too darn big.
    I’ll be honest here. There aren’t many bands that got as big as Phish who’ve handled it as well as they did. But at some point it became a scene, not a concert. The band seemed to lose their joy in playing. Jams went on in pointless circles, and even the old songs started to feel tired. Maybe they toured too much.  Maybe 20 years is just too long for any band to stay good at being a band. LCD Soundsystem never got that big. Though they ARE headlining Coachella this year… perhaps I have to rethink that assertion.
  3. Phish became a business.
    If you’re that big and you’ve been around that long, it’s probably inevitable. I used to get a crazy newsletter from them called Doniac Schvice once a quarter or so just checking in on the band. Now everything they do is monetized at every turn. (Remind me to see what those old newsletters are fetching on ebay… I still have mine.) LCD Soundsystem always felt like your best friends all started a band together and wrote music about the world you shared. They never outgrew that. For proof, read the article James Murphy wrote about their reunion. It’s honest, it’s raw, it’s like a note from a friend. Perfect.
  4. Phish is a Nostalgia Act.
    I have actually seen Phish play since their reunion. They headlined Bonnaroo the last time I went to that festival in 2009. It was a fun show, I’ll totally admit it. I danced like an idiot just like I did when I saw them in 1994. But it was a total nostalgia trip. I wasn’t engaged or excited by something new—it was the old songs that I knew by heart that got me going again. If LCD Soundsystem comes out with an album that is a rehash of anything they’ve done before, I’ll be a very sad puppy. Something tells me they won’t.
  5. I’m An Adult Now.
    This isn’t to say that if you still enjoy Phish, you’re not an adult. Far from it. But adult me doesn’t get into the same things that college me did. I don’t spend all night in an art studio painting. I don’t hang out in the quad playing hackey sack. I don’t lay back on the hood of my car staring up at the stars debating the meaning of life with a good friend (though sometimes I think about it).  LCD Soundsystem sounds better, feels better, and aligns better with where I am in my life—or at least where I was 5 years ago when they broke up.  I still listen to their music though. One of my favorite songs of all time is All My Friends. If I have a happy song, that’s the one.

How Naive am I Being Right Now?

This reunion is going to totally suck, isn’t it. Name a band who’s pulled this off. It wasn’t Phish. Not James. Not the Pixies or the Breeders or the Feelies. It’s not going to be Guns and Roses at Coachella. So why do I have faith in LCD Soundsystem?

Because I do have faith in this band—along with a dash of hope, some desire, and a basic gut feeling that they whatever they do, it’s going to be interesting, even if I don’t like it.

At least it seems like they’re doing it for the right reasons.

Anyone want to sponsor my ticket to Coachella so I can find out?  🙂

 

Music Featured in this Article:


Top Lists of 2015

The 2015 Top List of Top Lists

As we wind down the last week of 2015 and writers across the globe struggle to tie it all together, readers have two choices: look back and rank order the things that happened last year or look forward and make some guesses on what’s going to happen in 2016. This is the first of those… a look back—perhaps with a sprinkling of the latter.

As I’ve indicated a few times here, I have a lot of disparate interests. This is one of the few posts that attempts to tie them all together. We’ll see how it goes. And now, without further ado, here’s my list of top lists for 2015.

Biggest Business Deals of the Year

In case you hadn’t heard, 2015 broke the record for M&A deals (not adjusted for inflation). With the fed moving to increase interest rates, a solid looking economy, and companies struggling to grow organically, mergers hit a frenetic pace this year.  (click graphic for corresponding article at WSJ)

Most of the top deals were made in High-Tech and Healthcare extending recent trends. Big winners? Investment Banks and SMBs looking to expand into the space left by firms more focused on growth than innovation or service.

Music

There is never a shortage of year end ranking of best albums. I could list five of them here off the top of my head. Rather, there’s this fantastic list that takes all the other lists and weighs them to come up with a sort of master list. Here’s where you find that.

http://www.albumoftheyear.org/list/summary/2015/

It would appear that the consensus runaway hit of 2015 was Kendrick Lamar’s To Pimp a ButterflyI wish I were a fan. I’m sure it’s amazing. Total respect, just not my thing.

I must say I’m surprised by Sufjan’s placement in slot 2. A good album that I largely overlooked this year (bad release timing for me), as beautiful as anything he’s released, but not something I expected to place so highly.

Three of my personal favs from the year round out the top 6: Courtney Barnett’s Sometimes I Sit and Think, and Sometimes I Just Sit (4), Grimes’s Art Angels (5), and Jamie xx’s In Colour (6).

Other surprises are Carly Rae Jepson, New Order, and Florence + The Machine placing anywhere on the list, and the continued love for Adele who still has an amazing voice yet delivered what I feel is one of the most boring records of the year.

I’m still disappointed that Bully and The World is a Beautiful Place & I am No Longer Afraid to Die were left off most lists and that Eternal Summers continues to be overlooked.

My personal #1 of the year? Grimes’s Art Angels. I just can’t get enough.

Digital Retail

2015 was the year when everyone finally started taking mobile seriously. I say finally because some of us have been waving frantically about this trend for years. For many brands, the tipping point was 2015 when more than half of their internet traffic consistently came from a smartphone or other portable. Apps started making money—proving that most of the time a native experience beats one compromised for everything if you actually bother to take advantage of the device’s features.

An omnichannel approach became commonplace with more brands taking a more holistic approach to customer experience throughout their retail ecosystem. BOPUS and other bridging tactics broke down walls between inventory stashes.  More retail associates began walking the floors with digital devices and thus faster access to customer or product data. Location based services gave retailers more information and customers better deals.

Social Media became a sales channel. While the ramifications of this are still on the horizon, buy buttons on facebook, twitter, instagram, and pinterest followed wanelo into the clear monetization realm.

EMV confused a lot of people and maybe made in-store transactions safer. The only thing we know for sure is that it made a lot of money for the POS terminal companies.

Big Data and experience personalization got closer to being legitimate game changers. While this can be creepy if done wrong, retailers are inching forward with intelligent systems that add points to conversion rates, bump average order sizes by a few dollars, and build brand loyalty.

Forbes put together their list of the 10 biggest stories in retail for the year. The biggest one in my book was REI’s treatment of black friday and the general yawn that escaped from the public on that once hallowed day in retail. Cyber Monday and Black Friday were clearly huge online with big gains across the board, but in the physical world, it stepped back. Is this a trend? Will we see more companies go the way of REI since digital is clearly a more efficient channel for deals anyway?

I have a lot of thoughts on this looking forward and will put something together soon.

The Indie/Millennial Lifestyle

Paste magazine was once a real print magazine. Its editorial focus was on entertainment with a distinctly indie bent. Think Entertainment Weekly released once a month with better writing, focused on independent movies, music, TV, video games, and the like. I still have a CD booklet full of mix discs from them. Good stuff.

Unfortunately, like many print publications, the medium couldn’t be justified by the readership so they moved online.

They still have the same editorial focus though extended into food, drink, design, and books. Following another trend (the listification of everything) they now seem to organize every article as an ordered list of things. Irritating, yes, but for the purpose of my list of lists, perfect.

Here is their list of their top lists in every category they cover for the year.  It’s pretty darn comprehensive.

They even have a list of the top 20 most memorable soccer quotes of the year.

The Atlantic probably doesn’t consider itself an indie publication but it caters to the same ethnographic audience. They have a pretty killer best of 2015’s best of lists. My fav from the list?  76 Viral Photos from 2015 that were totally fake. You’re welcome.

Clearly not indie, but yet another list of lists from Rolling Stone. From states ranked by their official foods to presidential candidates ranked by their followers’ grammar, a little something for everyone.

Web Design/Development

While a lot of the web looks just like it did in 2014, a lot actually changed in 2015, albeit mostly under the hood.

One of the big surprises for me was the adoption rate of React by so many frameworks and developers. It’s pretty rare to see something new(ish) like this be adopted so quickly. Perhaps I shouldn’t be surprised, but the fact that this came out of team Facebook is a bit shocking to me. Somehow I had it in my head that with their php starting point most of the technology they developed to prop up their systems and enhance performance was too specialized to be abstracted for usefulness outside of their system. Boy was I wrong. Even Flux is getting some love these days.

In August, the excellent training website Treehouse wrote a list of their big web dev trends for 2015.

On the design side of the house, the homogenization of websites continued in 2015. A website really only has two or three starting points now, and the end result is only subtly different from the rest of the web. Because so many sites rely on large, heavily branded lifestyle imagery or video on the homepage, there feels like a huge difference, but we seem to have settled on a design pattern that makes sense for 80% of the world. Content site? Use UI pattern 1. Ecommerce? UI pattern 2. Corporate marketing? UI pattern 3. The UX can change dramatically based on color, typography, transitions, image choices, and detail work, but overall the underlying patterns remain.

Coming from someone who started his career in the design world in the mid 90s, this all feels a little lazy. I don’t think the problem has been solved for every case yet. The proliferation of responsive websites designed around built-in framework UI patterns is largely to blame. Let’s face it, they look pretty good out of the box. And the client likes it. Why push for better?

The continued love of calligraphic typefaces is starting to chip away at the dominance of “flat” design popularized by Apple in the release of iOS 7. Textures, lighting, and naturalism all harmonize well with calligraphy and will likely get pushed further over the next year.

99 designs put out a pretty decent roundup of style trends and common tactics that work well within the new world order of standardized UI. Some interesting ways to break out of the same/same with nested interactions that don’t break the world order at the highest level.

Look for more hand drawn or otherwise illustrated yumminess as designers struggle to tell a unique story in a standard box.

Surprises

I was going to write something about each of these, but it feels like they’re pretty self explanatory. I can honestly say I saw none of these coming—at least not in the way that they actually did.

  • Ashley Madison
  • Volkswagen
  • Taylor Swift
  • The Price of Oil
  • ISIS
  • Donald Trump
  • Bill Cosby
  • Brian Williams

Gadgets

I’m a gear geek on top of everything else though it’s really more of a byproduct than an obsession. I love music, so I look for the best sound and features from headphones, digital players, turntables, amps, speakers, etc. I love movies, so getting a home theater setup with great sound and video quality has been an ongoing (as yet unachieved) goal. I’ve been a photographer for as long as I can remember, so we have film and digital cameras for both still and video in a variety of form factors. As a designer/developer for the web and apps, we have lots of hard drives, monitors, computers and digital devices around for testing, creation, and content consumption. Woodworking? Mountain Biking?  Running? Lots of gear. This year we dabbled  with electronics prototyping… So, yeah, gear.

That said, I don’t tend to buy lots of each item. I can’t tell you how my Grado SR80s compare to anything other than my Harmon Kardon NC cans, my Symphonized GLXY ear buds, or my Jaybird BlueBudsX wireless running earbuds.  For the record, they’re the best sounding of the bunch, but I wouldn’t use them in any of the situations in which I use the other ones. And vice versa.

Wired has a list of their top electronics money can buy. I don’t agree with them all, but it’s a decent, if broad, list.

WSJ has a much better list of the gadgets I’d have fun with. Though I’m somewhat disappointed that they felt it necessary to include a selfie stick.

Rounding out the best lists, CNN compiled some interesting things in theirs—like the Theta-S and Wove—though it’s a bit heavy on phones and watches.

Not a lot of new gadgetry on the market, though some solid improvements all around.

Et. Cetera

I didn’t go to town on books because it felt like a weak year in fiction, at least so far as what I read. I openly admit to being a year or two behind the curve in this category though. I’m just now getting to David Mitchell’s Bone Clocks which was released over a year ago. Next year I’ll discover how awesome the Nightingale, the Rocks, or Fates and Furies is, but this year the best books I read were Anne Tyler’s A Spool of Blue Thread, Andy Weir’s The Martian, and Ann Patchett’s State of Wonder. I also thoroughly enjoyed Earnest Cline’s Ready Player One, though I wouldn’t exactly call it a great novel. Fun story yes. I read and was disappointed by The Girl on the Train (apparently I’m the only one) The Fold by Peter Clines, and The Girl in the Spider’s Web. You can safely skip the last two.

Here’s a great tool over at NPR that lets you pick something you may like from the 2015 heap of new published words.

I’d cover TV, but I didn’t watch enough of it to have a real opinion. Same with movies. I see most of them a year after they come out. Except Star Wars. Because, Star Wars.

What did I miss?  What did I get wrong? What does your 2016 look like?