Finding Life in the Death of a Band: LCD Soundsystem’s Last Days
By Yana Skorobogatov
The film’s opening line, “If it’s a funeral, let’s have the best funeral ever,” gives a good idea of what to expect in the hours to follow. The funeral, in this case, is LCD Soundsystem’s planned final show at Madison Square Garden on April 2, 2011. The mostly black-and-white, three-hour long affair involves heart-pounding music, special guest appearances by Reggie Watts and Arcade Fire, and not a few heartbroken fans’ tears once the stage is cleared and the house lights are turned on for the last time.
Directors Dylan Southern and Will Lovelace capture the show’s best moments, both on- and off-stage, reserving for filmgoers the best seats in the completely sold-out house. Not even someone sitting front row and center at Madison Square Garden would have seen keyboard player Nancy Whang console frontman James Murphy after a tear-inducing performance of “Someone Great.” For those who couldn’t make it to New York last April, “Shut Up and Play the Hits” will make them feel like “they were there.”
The film alternates between beautiful concert footage, segments of an interview between journalist Chuck Klosterman and frontman James Murphy, and scenes from Murphy’s “normal” life the day after the Madison Square Garden show. LCD Soundsystem fans will find bliss in full-length live performances of cult classics like “Losing My Edge,” “All My Friends,” and “Us v. Them.” Conversely, those completely unfamilar with LCD Soundsystem will get the chance to experience a sound that’s unmistakenly modern yet consciously aware of its history; to get to know a band that’s impossibly talented yet remarkably human.
Like many funerals, the movie celebrates life as well as death – in this case, the life of LCD Soundsystem’s critically acclaimed, decade-long career – and acknowledges an inevitable death whose timing and circumstance Murphy, like so many of us, yearns to control. Yet funerals, by definition, take place after death, not in life’s final hours. The film shows firsthand that LCD Soundsystem is more “alive” during the last three hours of its life than most bands seem to only dream of becoming during their careers. So was there ever a death to control?
This question haunts Murphy throughout the film. Many of the people around him are suspicious of his reasons for willfully disbanding the band at the peak of its success, ones that range from a desire to start a family to having free time to brew homemade coffee. At one point, Klosterman gives voice to his own skepticism by warning Murphy that when all’s said and done, the band’s impeccable record might be tainted by the lead singer’s own self-conciousncess – what Murphy calls “a sad hipster DJ Revolutionary Road” – that paralyzes him from letting his band “get huge” and facing the challenges that come with unremitted success.
SXSW, in many ways, offers the perfect settings for the film’s screening. Since its inception, the festival, like LCD Soundsystem, has dedicated itself to upholding the belief that music should be live, accessible, and, most importantly, fun.
While New York is, without a question, the documentary’s geographic epicenter, Austin, TX plays an unspoken but important role in the band’s story. LCD Soundsystem’s memorable SXSW debut in 2005 propelled it to the top of festivalgoer’s top-ten lists, and gave the band an open invitation to play at some of the city’s top venues, including Stubbs BBQ and Austin City Limits in the years that followed.
It should come to no surprise that those who attended the film’s sold-out SXSW premiere felt compelled to get out of their seats to dance themselves clean during the film’s live numbers. The seats inside the downtown Austin theater, like those at Madison Square Garden, at points seemed somewhat supurfluous.