I don't think it's an exaggeration to say it: LCD Soundsystem were the band of my generation. They had the smartest, funniest, most heart-tugging songs. They had the best live show. They had a musical arc that exploded the dance punk of the early '00s into a world-conquering, arena-sized electronic-rock-disco-funk-punk-anything goes machine (opening more than a few musical doors for fans in the process). They had, in James Murphy, a frontman capable of giving voice to some of the very real feelings of our time and of all times: anxieties, loss, longing, and the fleeting escape found on dance floors everywhere.
I remember buying "Losing My Edge" the summer it came out, 10 years ago this month, listening to the song explode in the headphones of the vinyl preview station at the Fremont Sonic Boom (RIP), and I went to see (one of) LCD Soundsystem's amazing, marathon final shows just over a year ago in New York, the last of which, their sold-out farewell concert at Madison Square Garden, I saw captured last night via documentary Shut Up and Play the Hits. In between, there were mind-blowing singles and excitingly uneven albums, some of the most awesome concerts I've ever been to (at the Showbox, the UW, Sasquatch, and NYC), there were DJ nights and dance parties and home listening unto memorization of every synth burp and vocal tic. I'm struggling to think of another band I've actively spent a whole decade with, and who so defined and soundtracked that time for me, and I'm coming up blank. LCD Soundsystem were it. (See also the discussion of "Losing My Edge"/LCD Soundsystem in N+1's study "What Was the Hipster?" Seriously.)
So that's a lot to document and eulogize in a 2 hour film, especially when you consider it's got to cram in a nearly 4-hour long concert (!) as well as a bunch of bright, blurry shots of morning after dog walking, plus an interview with NYT Ethicist Chuck Klosterman. And yet, Shut Up and Play the Hits succeeded--especially if you're part of a generation that spent the past decade priming for it.
Cute as Murphy's french bulldog may be, the main draw here is of course that concert footage (a full, uninterrupted ~4 hours of which will apparently be available as the b-side to the DVD release). One thing we could all learn from LCD's example is that when you decide to call it quits while still at the top of your game, you get to go out with a pretty tremendous bang. The band--even expanded with extra synth dudes, horns, a silver-suited glee club chorus, the Arcade Fire and Reggie Watts (whose moment was a standout)--is tight. The seats in the Cinerama rock back and forth, and it's a good thing. (And while it wasn't exactly a rock concert at the 10:15pm showing, the crowd did clap for "All My Friends" and the bigger songs, and groaned after getting only the teaser intro for "Sound of Silver.")
But there's also some poignancy in all the puttering-around morning after footage. The hangover, the afterglow. This as much a film about saying goodbye as it is a straight concert documentary, after all--like The Tempest, but with synthesizers--and while most of us have never fronted Madison Square Garden-rocking bands, all of us have had to wake up one morning and know that a part of our life has passed, is over, and get up and make the coffee anyway. And think about how to move on. (When I saw them in New York last year, I had just recently lost a job and was putting the final touches on a break-up; the morning after their show, I felt as dazed and aimless as Murphy looks in his pajamas here.) When Murphy breaks down and cries, hollowed out after a week of goodbyes, we've all been there.
And then, there's Klosterman. To quote a friend turning Klosterman's own great unifying theory of LCD Soundsystem on its head--a flip CK might appreciate--Shut Up and Play the Hits will be remembered for its many successes but defined by its one great failure. It's not even so much that it's Klosterman asking the questions, it's that his inane, repeated theories are given at least as much screen time as Murphy's generally thoughtful answers. To have to listen to Klosterman trying to explain "Losing My Edge" when you could actually be listening to "Losing My Edge" is a crime--but then the bit where Murphy explains it is actually pretty great. Huh, weird. Really, though, Klosterman's theory of success and failure is I think typically half-baked and bullshit, and he hardly defines the film; at most, he's a minor, occasional annoyance.
Still, though, I can't wait to get the version that's just nothing but the concert. I hear they'll be selling it for the reunion tour.
[Editor's Note: The film is returning Friday, July 27 to play a week at SIFF Cinema Uptown.]