Thoughts on Shut Up And Play The Hits
Erik Burg Monday, July 23, 2012
In an interview with music journalist Chuck Klosterman, a freshly shaved James Murphy talks about his relationship with the crowd surrounding a live performance. “It has to be 50/50,” he noted, in regards to roles that culture surrounding the show and the music itself play. There’s a certain camaraderie amongst all involved that transformed the sold out Madison Square Garden show from becoming a navel-gazing spectacle into “the best funeral ever.” In the now somewhat ironic track “You Wanted a Hit,” Murphy sings that “There's lights and sounds and stories / music's just a part.” On the night of the exclusive screening of LCD Soundsystem’s final show documentary Shut Up And Play The Hits, this sentiment was now more apt than ever before. It was clear that not only the people viewing the film for the first time, but the persons involved in staging the concert and those lucky enough to be in attendance on that unforgettable night in April were obsessed with the band for more reasons than the music. It felt like watching a video of old family slides narrated by your grandfather, a shared experience that often times felt bigger than the screen itself. It was about life, letting go, and being misunderstood; three things Murphy shared in equal amounts with each member of his audience.
Opening with a stage quickly emptying of performers and fans, as giant white balloons released during their final rendition of “New York I Love You” bounced between people’s feet, Murphy and his band shared hugs, tears and a few laughs. It was a strange feeling for the hip post-everything New York group. The self-awareness that comes with performing your last show at MSG, just as the popularity of the group was reaching its fever pitch, was something Murphy was battling with all throughout the film. When asked by Klosterman what the band’s biggest mistake was, a moment Klosterman seems to believe defines a band, Murphy could only muster one answer, “ending it.” Foresight is a disillusion, so even though the band seemed determined to move on, there were noticeable nerves on each of the member’s faces as the proverbial curtain finally closed on the show.
And that decision, the decision to put the band behind him, becomes the crux of the film. In Shut Up And Play The Hit's most poignant and moving scene, Murphy visits the band’s gear a final time before selling it off. As he stands and stares motionless at the dimly lit storage space, it becomes clear not only to Murphy, but the audience as well that, this moldy, compartmentalized room was all that was left of a historic group. As he begins to pace and look over the guitars, synthesizers and amps more closely, Murphy breaks out into tears. And so did I, along with a few hundred other people in the movie theater that night. Murphy’s interview with Klosterman continued, and when asked about “Losing My Edge,” a track Klosterman calls their best to date, Murphy launches into a discussion about wanting to be understood as a person, not about wanting attention. It was obvious that the man had been torturing himself leading up to the final show, and possibly in the year following it as well, but it showed a humility and responsibility that few artists could match. Spliced between the clips of the same man commanding thousands of fans at MSG, it was incredible to watch Murphy so clearly at odds with what he wanted, even though he could essentially have it all.
Which is exactly why I found myself drawn to the man from the first time I heard “Daft Punk is Playing at My House” and “Losing My Edge.” The irreverent but spot on nature with which he wrote his songs, the ability to see trends in culture before so many others, Murphy was a panopticon of ideas that he eventually regretted not speaking more about. Paranoid that critics and fans might view him the wrong way for not taking the band further, Murphy spends a great deal of time repenting during the film, both to Klosterman, his manager, and his friends alike.
But for as much as the film focused on Murphy leading up to, during, and directly after the show, it was ultimately about the concert itself. Shut Up And Play The Hits was a way to share those moments with the fans, a way for Murphy to extend a hand asking not necessarily for forgiveness, but for understanding. It’s a brilliant film that is not as much concerned with why the group quit, but celebrating their existence and exposing the emotional tumult involved with stepping away.