I wasn’t there in 2011. I wasn’t there at the last LCD Soundsystem show in New York City. I don’t think I’ve lost my edge because I don’t think I ever really had one. I first came across LCD Soundsystem as a record store employee at Milwaukee’s Brady Street branch of the Exclusive Company in 2005. I can remember putting the first disc of the self-titled, double album into the CD player because I was drawn in by title of its single, “Daft Punk is Playing at My House.” When I discovered that the band, fronted by James Murphy, sounded less like Daft Punk and more like post-punk, my sensibilities didn’t really know what to make of it and I didn’t bother to go onto the second disc.
In retrospect, I made a huge mistake and one year later, with “Sound of Silver,” I started to take note . . . although I still didn’t completely understand what these crazy New Yorkers were up to. I’ll be honest and admit that I did not fully grasp the significance of the band until “This Is Happening.” This is probably because my youth and musical tastes had put me in the camp of the “art-school Brooklynites in little jackets borrowing nostalgia for the unremembered eighties,” rather than in Murphy’s more informed, seasoned and yes, older (How about we use sophisticated here? Murphy and company surely put my concert energy levels to shame . . . ) musical neuroses. In the three years that passed between “Silver” and “Happening,” I emerged from the sheltering cocoon of graduate school and, for the first time in my life, I felt old, misunderstood, and as if I had squandered my window of opportunity and the world had passed me by. In other words, I began to understand why Murphy felt the way he did and I count my lucky stars that I had this last minute musical revelation (and that I have a good friend that insisted I listen to “Happening”) because—while I wasn’t at Madison Square Garden on April 2, 2011—I did get to see LCD Soundsystem’s last show in Los Angeles.
Shut Up and Play the Hits is the concert doc that covers that final NYC show for those who were not lucky enough to join those 18,200 LCD lovers. Within the film’s nearly two-hour run time, we’re given about one-third of the four hour set, with energetic renditions of “Dance Yrself Clean,” “North American Scum” (with special guests Arcade Fire), “Someone Great,” and of course, “Losing My Edge.” Filmmakers Dylan Southern and Will Lovelace intercut the performance with Murphy’s morning after (spent making coffee and walking his French Bulldog around his neighborhood) and an interview with cultural critic Chuck Klosterman. This focus is the documentary’s greatest miscalculation. Sure, it’s worth contemplating if Murphy and company made the right decision to dissolve the band less than a year after releasing an acclaimed hit record. Yet, the decision was motivated by the sentiment of leaving the project on a high note and taking a moment to enjoy life. This motive means there is little drama to be seen and although the filmmakers seem to think it is poignant to reflect on the fact that Murphy doesn’t seem to know what to do with himself the day after killing off his beloved band with an epic show . . . it has been less than 24 hours since the show. If I was in Murphy’s shoes, I probably wouldn’t have known what to do with myself either and, judging by his recent collaboration with André 3000 and the Gorillaz, it’s not as if he ever planned on packing up his turntables permanently (and I think LCD Soundsystem will eventually come back to us in one form or another).
Finally, as much as I love Klosterman, the interview sequence sinks like a stone because it takes Murphy’s objective of using the form to clarify and undermines it by trying to psychoanalyze him. Specifically, Klosterman asks Murphy what the band’s greatest failure was. Murphy responds that it may have been “stopping” and he briefly considers his own motive(s) and vocally contemplates what role a fear of failure played in it. Klosterman jumps on the observation and seems to project that—and I’d have to see the interview in its entirety to be sure this wasn’t taken out of context—it might be Murphy’s self-consciousness. Murphy’s self-consciousness!? A failure?! Murphy’s self-consciousness is what gives LCD Soundsystem’s songs their heart. It’s what makes “I Can Change” one of the most heartbreaking accounts of lost love that I’ve ever heard. No offense to Klosterman, Southern, and Lovelace, but I’d rather watch Murphy sing than use the film as the cinematic equivalent of a psychiatrist’s couch.