LCD Soundsystem and the Glorious Swindle of the Rock ‘n’ Roll Reunion


Late in 2015, the music-media complex was whipped into a frenzy when rumors began to swirl about a possible LCD Soundsystem reunion. The band, fronted by James Murphy, had permanently signed off from its post as indie’s resident sad-sack dance folks with 2010’s This Is Happening and a massive farewell show at Madison Square Garden, not to mention the 2012 documentary Shut Up and Play the Hits, which further memorialized the band. Oh, and also the 2014 release of a recording of that farewell concert.

Yeah, the band and James Murphy said farewell, and they said it over and over again. So people were interested in the possibility of a reunion, especially seeing as the band’s label denied any chance of a reunion just three months ago. (And they’d denied it before, too.) Now, with yesterday’s news of a Coachella-headlining show, it’s official: they’re saying hello again, to both the fans and the cash that is sure to follow.

To anyone unfamiliar with the fanfare surrounding that MSG show, it might seem strange to say that LCD Soundsystem, an “indie” band with three albums released through Murphy’s own small label, DFA Records, will be saying hello to “cash.” But reunion tours for bands of all sizes have been raking in truckloads of money for decades.

Listing all of the bands that have cashed in on the breakup/reunion cycle would be redundant — one might as well assume that most bands with any kind of following have, at some point, called it quits, played farewell shows, and then gotten back together a few years or decades later. (All right, here are a few notable ones: Led Zeppelin, Black Sabbath, Fleetwood Mac, the Grateful Dead, Phish, Blink-182, Outkast, Backstreet Boys, the Beach Boys, Blur, and, of course, Guns N’ Roses.)

The most egregiously greedy of the recent reunions has got to be that of the Grateful Dead, which began as a limited run of shows and morphed into a whole series of pay-per-view events that earned somewhere between $50 million and $75 million for the band. And then the band did not call it quits — they continued, with John Mayer in tow, to play an extended set of dates, nullifying the whole supposed spirit of the “Fare Thee Well” tour. But with that kind of money coming in, can you really blame the band’s few remaining lifelong members for wanting to cash in?

No. No sensible person can blame any artist, ever, for trying to make a little more money, even if integrity is thrown to the wind. True, LCD Soundsystem’s reunion is coming pretty quickly on the heels of their breakup just five years ago, but it’s also 2016, and our culture’s rampant cycle of nostalgia has catalyzed the profitability of these kinds of things. Hell, One Direction went on an indefinite hiatus just a few months ago, and surely, if they were to announce a tour six months from now, it would sell out immediately. And would their teen fans blame them? Is the backlash against reunions simply an Old Person thing?

In the case of Murphy and Co., perhaps. The bulk of the sadness for the band’s going-away event was based on a kind of instant nostalgia surrounding Sound of Silver‘s feel-bad jams “All My Friends” and “Someone Great.” For many of the heartbroken fans, the whole cacophony of the farewell celebrated the passing of more than a band. In a way, it seemed to celebrate the formal passing of Williamsburg from the hands of the bootstrapped to the hands of corporations. It seemed to signify indie’s ascent to blockbuster status. But maybe it didn’t signify anything at all. Maybe it was just some cool band trying to rake it in before taking a break and opening a wine bar.

The band was never great at moving albums: Sound of Silver only reached No. 46 on the Billboard 200, and This Is Happening peaked at No. 10. LCD’s success was in live shows, and now they’ve secured some pretty stellar bucks for headlining at least one very high-profile festival, which they’re going to use to jumpstart a new studio album and a to-be-announced tour, which all of the bitter fans will, in the end, happily attend.

To be fair, if Murphy’s announcement post is to be believed, the band’s reunion happened organically, and with no ill intent: Murphy’s hard drive was packed with more finished material than he’d ever had in his life. So he called his former bandmates Nancy Whang and Pat Mahoney and they decided, hey, let’s record this stuff. And then they got a (presumably massive) deal from AEG Live, the group behind Coachella. (It’s also probably an OK guess to say that that AEG deal meant the group was contractually obligated to deny any rumors of a comeback late last year, so as to not compromise the wow-factor of this week’s Coachella announcement.)

But, as we said, can you really blame them for that — for lying to the press about their reunion so as to fulfill a contract that was securing their means of living for, probably, the next few years, if not longer? No, you can’t. So, hey, good on you, James Murphy. Give your fans some new tunes and make that cash, because you can only make so much dough from coffee collaborations and pipe-dream MTA soundtracks.