Friday, July 20, 2012

LCD Soundsystem's Swan Song: "Shut Up And Play The Hits"

"If it's a funeral... let's have the best funeral ever"

This is the opening text shown at the beginning of the new documentary, Shut Up And Play The Hits: And thus begins the final piece of brilliance that James Murphy, Pat Mahoney, Nancy Whang, and others would put together as LCD Soundsystem.

To say that I was anticipating the release of this film would be the biggest understatement of the year; heck, I can honestly say I was more excited to see this film in theaters than any other film I've ever seen. LCD Soundsystem, to me, was more than just my favorite band, but a life-changing event and movement that would warp the way I looked at music forever. After the band announced that it would be disbanding, playing one final show at Madison Square Garden in April of 2011, I had the craziest urge to do whatever it took to get to see and hear this final show. Of course, I chickened out in the end, didn't make it to New York and settled for watching a live stream via Pitchfork that night and eventually downloading (and listening to religiously) the final performances of my favorite band.

James Murphy & Pooch
Shut Up And Play The Hits not only did an excellent job of making the viewer feel like they were at MSG that night, but also gave us all an introspective view at the person (albeit, Mastermind) behind LCD Soundsystem, James Murphy. Shots of him going unnoticed while walking his French Bulldog through NYC, making coffee, and candid conversations with his manager and friends/bandmates all give audiences a glimpse into the life of a normal 42-year-old man who just happens to have a silver lining of musical genius.

The film is set up with a perfect narrative: an interview with James Murphy and Chuck Klosterman (my journalistic and non-fiction writing idol) in a small New York restaurant. The film is structured around not only the final show, but also this interview. It's set up beautifully when Murphy states that they wanted to do something different, something important for this final show, and then you hear the opening notes of "All My Friends" and realize that this was something important and different.

Aziz Ansari Crowd Surfing
The cinematography in SUAPTH is worth noting too. Often finding members of the crowd that you swear you've met before: some screaming lyrics, some dancing their asses off, some famous (Aziz Ansari, Donald Glover), a couple making out during "Us v Them", some in Panda masks, and others balling their eyes out. These crowd shots are featured throughout, and are highlights of the film, while the shots of the actual band are chill inducing; every member on stage seemed to be having the time of their life, taking full advantage of the moment and where they were, knowing they'd never be back again. It was funny to see a lot of audiences surprise as guests took the stage with the band: Reggie Watts and Shit Robot join LCD for segments in their opus, "45:33". The biggest "surprise" was during "North American Scum" which found members of Arcade Fire on stage with LCD Soundsystem.

The odd thing about this film is that everyone in the theater (assumedly) knew the ending. It's not as if, at the end of the movie, the band would pull a surprise and announce they were getting back together. Instead, the film came with a pre-scripted "spoiler," but I have the feeling that no one leaving the theater felt cheated. The direction of the film makes sure to highlight what's really important to the viewers: the music, but the glimpse into the decision-making, and the real life of members of the group makes the film brilliant.

There are two moments in the film that stick with me, as a member of the thousands of people who consider themselves LCD's biggest fan. These moments still send goosebumps up my arm. Besides the normal songs that I consider to be my favorites ("All My Friends"; "Dance Yrself Clean"; "Yeah"; and "Losing My Edge") the connection I felt with a sea of people watching the songs being performed was immensely humbling.

In the interview with Klosterman, he asks, "What is [LCD's] biggest failure?" This question is met with a eye-widening "wow" from Murphy, a question he's probably never even dreamed of answering. The film cuts away to a performance, but later cuts back to the interview. Murphy answers, reluctantly, that time will tell, but "Quitting" might turn out to be LCD's biggest failure. He gives his reasons, and admits that they are probably somewhat selfish (they aren't), but it's nice to know that this wasn't something that he was 100% sure was the best thing to do.

And then there's the "storage space" shot. I guarantee you anyone that is reading this, who saw the film on July 18, knows exactly what shot I'm speaking of.

Murphy admits to his manager that the storage space housing all of the equipment and instruments that belong to LCD Soundsystem needs to be cleared out, and that he would be travelling there later that day. Cut to a shot from about 20 feet out, of James Murphy looking over all of his equipment that has been with him for years, and he starts sobbing uncontrollably.

This stuck with me. And this shot is probably the reason I'm writing a film review piece on a music blog. And fine, I'll admit it sent a tear down my cheek.

Shut Up And Play The Hits was not only a great documentary, but a swan song for a band that meant a lot to a mass amount of people. And although it's not the same as a new LCD album, and never will be, it's a fantastic bookend to a near-decade's worth of music from a band that meant the world to me. It's nice to know I'll have this film to watch again and again-- to relive something that I was never really a part of.
Beat. Connection.

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