Shortly after LCD Soundsystem played its sold-out Madison Square Garden retirement party last April, I wrote a lengthy piece about what they meant to me as recording artists and a live act. In a nutshell, I believe they were my generation’s defining act.
So when I went to Hollywood Theater Thursday night to watch “Shut Up And Play The Hits”, the concert film/documentary about LCD Soundsystem and its frontman James Murphy, I entered with high expectations – especially high because the idea of watching a concert documentary generally would not be high on my list of things to do.
And while I left the theater wishing I had been at LCD Soundsystem’s final show, not to mention begrudging the lucky bastards who saw it live, I felt conflicted about the film I had just seen. Yes, I enjoyed the live footage (no surprise) but the loose documentary surrounding it, particularly the bloated and pretentious interview stylings of journalist Chuck Klosterman, I could have done without.
That’s a roundabout way of saying maybe I should have waited for the release of the nearly four-hour Madison Square Garden concert on DVD.
I’ll start with what didn’t work for me.
There’s a scene in the movie where the audience sees Murphy shaving while in the background hearing the red-bearded, bespectacled Klosterman asking one of his “look at me, I am such a deep thinker” questions. It’s one of the worst scenes I can recall seeing in a movie in a long time. Klosterman is the type of journalist whose nerdiness and need to sound intellectual gets in the way of the interviews he does. He, thus, engages in the interviewee in masturbatory psychobabble. The only reason the film’s creators asked him to do this documentary, I presume, was because he had name recognition.
For instance, Klosterman shares with Murphy his theory that the greats are defined by their failures, and uses Michael Jordan as an example – an absurd sentiment. The masses remember Jordan for his successes on the basketball court not his losses gambling or his struggles on the baseball diamond. Murphy initially dodges Klosterman’s question about his greatest failure … because how do you begin to know the answer without the benefit of hindsight?
Murphy finally reveals his biggest failure, perhaps, would be judged as stopping LCD Soundsystem too soon – after three records provided him an opportunity to step onto bigger stages. On one hand, that’s reassuring that someone I admire greatly as an artist experiences the same self-doubt as I do, albeit on a much larger platform. On the other hand, I selfishly would like to hear another LCD Soundsystem album or see another LCD Soundsystem concert.
Clips depicting the calm before the Madison Square Garden storm and the hungover day are also interspersed throughout the film. Watching Murphy make coffee, walk his French bulldog and ride the subway made me wonder: So he had a film crew follow him so he could show people that the man behind the LCD Soundsystem curtain was just a regular dude?
Enough bitchin’ in present tense. Time for praisin’ in past tense.
The concert footage in “Shut Up And Play The Hits” captured the atmosphere inside Madison Square Garden wondrously. The audience danced, jumped for joy, pushed and shoved and even cried. It brought me back to the times I saw LCD Soundsystem live in 2010.
Watching Murphy and Co. perform “All My Friends” punched me in the gut. It’s hard to think of a song I enjoy more or one that means more to me as a twentysomething. I love that song and I loved watching LCD Soundsystem perform it on the big screen. “North American Scum” featuring Arcade Fire, “Us vs Them”, and “New York, I Love You” all tempted me to break common theater decorum and clap afterward. I restrained myself but it wasn’t easy.
While I respected the ambition “Shut Up and Play the Hits” showed in attempting to be more than a concert film in the end I wished that the film had done a little more shutting up and a lot more playing of the hits.