As LCD Soundsystem took the Agganis Arena stage Friday night, the warm-up DJ spun Donna Summer’s eternal dance-floor-filler “I Feel Love.” Soon, the band was playing along, and when they transitioned into the scratchy disco groove of “Us V. Them,” they did it literally without missing a beat. Besides being a neat trick, it served as a reminder that, though their latest album “American Dream” was their most somber yet, LCD Soundsystem are still, first and foremost, a dance band. Of course, the giant disco ball that lit up the arena made the same point in much less subtle fashion.
James Murphy’s vocals were rich and passionate, and his seven-piece band played with remarkable tightness, but what truly made LCD Soundsystem’s performance so phenomenal was the same X factor that makes or breaks any DJ set: sequencing. For a particularly shrewd example, the group played one track from each of their first three albums before playing a single new song, though the insistent chug of “Call the Police” went over just as well as anything from their original run.
The most impressive transition came after the paranoid death-disco of “You Wanted a Hit” and the deliriously fun New Order homage “Tribulations,” themselves both set highlights. First came “Movement,” slowly building tension to unbearable heights before a cathartic punk explosion, ending in several minutes of guitar feedback. Out of the noise, slowly and quietly, emerged the tear-jerking “Someone Great,” like the morning of regret after a night of reckless abandon.
After the hollowed-out despair of “I Used To,” LCD Soundsystem snapped back into dance-party mode with “Tonite.” Murphy made a meal of the song’s sardonic lyrics, throwing his voice in a goofy falsetto and generally coming off like a snarky record store clerk who accidentally wandered onstage, only to decide that that’s exactly where he belongs. The buoyant synth hook of “Home” flowed seamlessly into Chic’s “I Want Your Love,” sung by keyboardist Nancy Whang. After riding the groove for a while, bassist Tyler Pope snuck in a quick homage to The Smiths’ “Barbarism Begins at Home” (perhaps a consolation for Morrissey canceling the previous night’s Boston date?) and the band made their exit.
Murphy had already told the crowd that there would be an encore no matter what, but the lack of suspense didn’t make their return any less welcome. The electro-ballad “Oh Baby” was simply gorgeous, while the thunderous post-punk of “Emotional Haircut” concluded with a thrilling double-drummer face-off. “Dance Yrself Clean” elicited the most enthusiastic reaction, the audience singing loudly even during the song’s relatively hushed first half before pogo-ing like crazy when the synth riff kicked in.
At this point, there was only one song LCD Soundsystem could close with: “All My Friends,” a heart-pounding elegy for the good times whose climactic refrain of “where are your friends tonight?” felt like a triumphant rallying cry when played for an arena full of true believers. As the band said their goodbyes and the house lights went up, the DJ dropped Lionel Richie’s “All Night Long,” and you could see people on the floor deciding that, as long as the right song was playing, and the right friends were present, they might as well stick around and keep dancing.Terence Cawley can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @terence_cawley