Dan Shafer
“Shut Up and Play the Hits”

LCD Soundsystem’s last dance

A sold-out Downer Theatre was treated to a one-time screening of concert documentary "Shut Up and Play the Hits," LCD Soundsystem's grand finale.

By - Jul 19th, 2012 06:35 pm
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LCD Soundsystem’s final performance at Madison Square Garden. (Production still: shutupandplaythehits.com)

Shut Up and Play the Hits is about how and why LCD Soundsystem, the band James Murphy led for the better part of a decade, called it quits while at the height of its powers.

The documentary debuted at this year’s South by Southwest festival and was shown in Milwaukee on Wednesday at the Downer Theatre. More than 360 people attended two sold-out screenings, said assistant manager Joseph Nelson.

Directed by Will Lovelace and Dylan Southern, the film weaves together three parts of James Murphy’s final week with LCD: the band’s final performance at sold out Madison Square Garden, the day after the grand finale, and an extended interview with bestselling author Chuck Klosterman.

The camera is in constant motion throughout the film, quickly shuffling from one image to the next, rarely spending more than five seconds on a single shot. This technique is an effective portrayal of a band whose body of work incorporated a long list of varied and obscure influences during a musical era on perpetual shuffle.

James Murphy the day after his final show as LCD Soundsystem. (Production still: shutupandplaythehits.com)

The concert footage in the film is simply amazing. Among songs included are “All My Friends,” “Someone Great,” “Yeah (Crass Version),” “45.33,” and “New York, I Love You, But You’re Bringing Me Down,” the show’s final song, which ended climactically with thousands of white balloons descending on the joyful-yet-mournful audience, some of whom were bursting into tears, while others jumped and screamed and danced and sang in pure, unbridled joy.

The live footage doesn’t include many wide-shots of the band, but it works to the film’s advantage, adding a level of closeness between viewer and artist. The camera jumps from close-ups of Murphy singing into his trademark Vintage Sennheiser MD409 microphone to ever-magnetic keyboard player Nancy Whang to the parade of musicians on stage, which at one point included members of Arcade Fire, who joined the band for “North American Scum.”

Also included is the performance of “Losing My Edge,” Murphy’s self-conscious track that blasts through the digital era’s changing of the guard. It is the only individual song that is deconstructed by Murphy and Klosterman, and this is certainly no accident. The song is a seminal moment in the post-Napster era, and while it is often laugh-out-loud funny, it is very much a funeral for the era Murphy grew into during his earlier career as a DJ.

Murphy’s whip-smart sense of humor (he turned down an offer as a staff writer on Seinfeld when he was 21) is showcased in the film not only in the clip from his final TV appearance as LCD Soundsystem on The Colbert Report, but in moments like when he’s hungover the day after the show, alone in his apartment, talking to his french bulldog or when he’s cracking self-deprecating jokes with friends.

Murphy’s self-consciousness brings an added dimension to the film. He’s acutely aware of his place in culture, and as Klosterman—who is brilliant in the interview—pointed out, Murphy enjoys the process of stepping back and talking about himself in a conceptual sense. He embraces being pretentious and enjoys weird and challenging elements of culture, and appreciates how a book like Gravity’s Rainbow helped shape his worldview for the better.

Murphy’s enjoyment of looking at his role in culture in a big picture sense speaks to the reason Murphy chose to end the band by putting on the “best funeral ever” in the first place. LCD Soundsystem’s music and James Murphy’s worldview may derive from the most obscure of places, but he embraces the truest of all rock ‘n’ roll cliches, that it’s better to burn out than fade away.

For more information on Shut Up and Play the Hits, click here.

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