Report: National, LCD @ Treasure Island Fest

 

The National and LCD Soundsystem deliver a bounty at the Treasure
Island Music Festival
, which was held in San Francisco this past weekend (Oct.
16 and 17).

 

By David Downs / Photos by Josh
Withers

 

Buried as we are at the bottom
of a metaphorical Chilean mine, getting hauled up one by one, wearing
sunglasses and covered in filth like a roadie for Motorhead: it makes sense
that the best musicians at the Treasure Island Music Festival over the weekend
were also dealing with their own grim fates:

 

– LCD Soundsystem – retiring for
the first time at the conclusion of this tour.

 

– And The National – maybe the
best rock band in America,
also married, older, broody, and icy.

 

The house fans who came for
other acts like Deadmau5 don’t need artists with a history. Adorably aloof
Zooey Deschanel of She & Him still has a lot of time in her mitts.

 

But LCD’s James Murphy in his
wrinkled white suit? The National’s Matt Berninger in his dapper, navy blue
three-piece? They sang like their days were numbered, and many fans can now die
happy having witnessed a glimpse of it.

 

The 3rd annual music
festival held in the center of the San Francisco Bay provided a lot of such
moments to perhaps 35,000 visitors over two, cold, windy, sometimes rainy days.
The promoters Another Planet Entertainment and Noise Pop managed to sell out
Saturday, and should be commended for layering such different fanbases into a
well-attended high point
in an otherwise economically frigid concert climate.

 

 

Going anything but gently into
the cold night went LCD Soundsystem on one of the last stops of their “final”
tour. Tens years was how long frontman Murphy originally gave the project, and
that was about ten years ago. A New York DJ who came down from the platform,
Murphy grabbed the mic in 2002 with the track “Losing My Edge”. He saw a
movement without enough movement, so he recruited a full rock band to reinvent
electro through releases like LCD Soundsystem and Sound of Silver;
even though Murphy would hate a term like “reinvent”.

 

Ten years. Ending with the
sterling 2010 LP This Is Happening and this North American tour.
Murphy’s tired, he says. He’s 40, he says. (And that’s in “rock years”, which
might be 52 in human years.) LCD fans came for something transcendent and
climactic Saturday, and despite the 52-degree weather, and 15-mph wind, they
got it.

 

At the center of the pit, in the
middle of the thrashy “Movement”, with each and every light onstage strobing
white, it was loud enough and bright enough to knock souls loose from bodies:
no hard drugs required. If it was possible to “Dance Yourself Clean”, the
die-hards pulled it off. When Murphy announced their last song at 10:07 pm., the
crowed let out a roar of “boos!”

 

“Don’t get mad at me,” he joked,
“I’m not the cops.”

 

Is it symbolic that there was no
LCD Soundsystem encore? That as James left he threw a large black trenchcoat
over his white suite, because he never really could get warm, despite all that
dancing and energy? Did Murphy never think to jump down off the six-foot stage,
hop the guard rail into the crowd and finish with us?

 

 

The National frontman Matt
Berninger understood the concept implicitly Sunday night. “Huddle together for
warmth,” he mandated at the beginning of the band’s set. The tighter the crowd
got, the more the temperature rose.

 

It’s not enough for a band
simply to be good in 2010. It has to be about something. (Such is the
gap between the doom of The Arcade Fire and the ‘meh’ of Broken Social Scene.)

 

The National is mostly about the
drama that erupts when you huddle close to others. Drawing from their superb
2010 LP High Violent as well as Boxer and Alligator, The
National had couples squeezing tight and making out to tracks like “Slow Show”.

 

The song’s popularity at modern
weddings belies the fact that it’s about Matt’s dick, the band joked. “Only a
tiny bit of it is about my dick,” Matt defended and crowd roared.

 

In a further shade of irony,
couples sang romantic lyrics like “Cus I’m evil!” to one another. “Forty-five
minutes ago I was miserable and now I’m like, ‘Ah, this is great’,” Berninger
reflected, surveying the thousands-strong crowd backdropped by the Bay Bridge,
the Transamerica building and the whole of the San Francisco skyline.

 

Hairs stood on end for the
second time that weekend amid the propulsive “Bloodbuzz Ohio”. The National simply don’t miss a note
and whatever vocal range Berninger lacks on the high end, he more than makes up
for with a colossal songwriting ability and swagger on tracks like “Afraid of
Anyone” “Conversation 16” and “England”.

 

The National closed with
“Terrible Love”, Berninger perching precariously over the crowd, holding
outstretched hands to steady himself. “It takes an ocean not to break,” he
belted, as he stepped down into the masses.

 

He wasn’t mobbed or crowd-surfed
or tearfully clawed at like Deadmau5 would have been.

 

“It takes an ocean not to
break,” he sang, as arms reached up and enveloped him. They lightly patted him
on his tailored shoulders, absorbing him into the group. The sound cut, the
lights died, wintery darkness again descended, and he was gone.

 

 

Photos by Josh Withers, courtesy Treasure Island
Music Festival. Meanwhile, you can see David Downs’  report on the 2009 event right here.

 

 

 

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