When Murphy stepped out from behind the mixing desk, the elegiac quality you could detect in his music moved from subtext to subject. Murphy seemed a comically ill-suited to the job of frontman. For one thing, he didn't look the part. What's more, he was old. A chubby, schlubby studio rat on the wrong side of 30—could this guy be a star?
He pulled it off by making chubby-schlubdom topic A: His demise was his muse. The mission statement is LCD Soundsystem's debut single "Losing My Edge" (2002), an aging scenester's lament delivered over a frenetic groove: "I'm losing my edge to better-looking people with better ideas and more talent. … I hear everybody that you know is more relevant than everybody that I know." The song was hilarious, a barrage of plaints and boasts that perfectly captured hipster anxieties: "I'm losing my edge to the art-school Brooklynites in little jackets and borrowed nostalgia for the unremembered '80s." "I was the first guy playing Daft Punk to the rock kids." "But have you seen my records? This Heat, Pere Ubu, Outsiders, Nation of Ulysses, Mars, the Trojans …" But behind the satire were some of the sturdiest themes in art: desperation, nostalgia, the ruthless march of time. "The kids are coming up from behind," Murphy drawls. "I can hear the footsteps every night on the decks."
Since then, Murphy has continued to do the unlikely, wowing indie kids in their 20s with songs about his midlife crisis. There's "New York, I Love You but You're Bringing Me Down," a half-billet-doux, half-"Dear John" letter to the gentrified city. There's the anthemic "All My Friends," about the spiritual toll of bohemian life: "And with a face like a dad and a laughable stand/ You can sleep on the plane or review what you said/ When you're drunk and the kids look impossibly tan/ You think over and over, 'Hey, I'm finally dead.' "* "Dance Yrself Clean" from the most recent LCD album This Is Happening (2010) sounds like a valediction: "Every night's a different story/ It's a 30-car pile-up with you/ Everybody's getting younger …/ It's the end of an era—it's true."
Whether the Madison Square Garden concert marks the end of an era remains to be seen. I'm skeptical. Life, even hipster life, goes on after 40, and if This Is Happening is any indication, Murphy has stuff to say about topics other than his own obsolescence—about love, about commitment, about the Police's reunion tour—not to mention plenty of new tricks for making bodies move to music. In the unlikely event that Saturday night's concert was Murphy's last hurrah, we can credit him with a couple of dozen great songs, three good-to-great albums, and a career that inverted the typical musical career pattern of rise-and-decline. His epitaph would be one of the most unusual in pop history: He started late and quit while he was ahead.
Correction, April 4, 2011: The article originally misquoted the lyrics to "All My Friends." (Return to the corrected sentence.)