SXSW: Shut Up and Play the Hits Sidesteps the Legacy of LCD Soundsystem

by |
03/17/2012 12:12 PM |

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Shut Up and Play the Hits, a document of the final LCD Soundsystem show at Madison Square Garden last spring, is a conspicuously well-shot concert film: among the several camera operators are Spike Jonze and Yorick Le Saux, who know a thing or two about responsiveness to the pulse of a moment, about finding the patch of texture that both stands out from and exemplifies the whole. The complete performances of various dancepunk jams (mostly stuff from the first two albums made the final cut), interspersed throughout the film, boast many moving parts—guest vocalists, black and white costumes of varying degrees of seriousness, live guitar loops and synth lines, group drumming, more cowbell—and the large, hiply postracial band moves to each others’ rhythms, with and without instruments, in a way that’s both exuberant and professional. It calls to mind, at times, the concert film par excellence Stop Making Sense, not least because all this stagecraft is conducted, with surprisingly suave dorky hand gestures, by a white guy in a distinctive suit (Murph rocks the tuxedo with shirt untucked and white trainers).

For a fans-only concert film, then, this is lavish and gratifying. But when Shut Up and Play the Hits stops shutting up and playing the hits, its limitations become pretty glaring.

There’s so much more here to cover, and Murphy would make a legitimately fascinating subject for a more ambitious documentary film—this punk and postpunk crate-digger, DJ, producer, label head and finally rock star oversaw the evolution of New York indie culture into a dance-oriented genre melting pot (throwing away guitars, buying syths; throwing away synths, buying guitars), creating while also commenting, quite brilliantly, upon the Brooklyn that’s become, in the past decade or decade and a half, the center of the known fashionable universe.

But when the movie leaves Madison Square Garden to consider Murphy’s career, it does so with clips from an interview with a slightly nervous-seeming Chuck Klosterman, framing questions around rushed-through explanations of irrelevant pet theories; the staged introspection occasionally yields insights, from the very articulate Murphy, about what it means to identify with music, emotionally but also in terms of cultural positioning (he’s spent a lifetime thinking about the ethics of posing); and about maintaining that desire for transformation amid the realities of rock-life logistics and biology. This is good stuff, but much of it could be said by anyone (not necessarily so well), and it serves mainly to provide the filmmakers with testaments to the power of music, to be played over shots of ecstatic, rippling crowds dancing themselves clean, and to set up Murphy’s admission of ambivalence over ending the band.

The interview plays over sad-face and obviously camera-benefiting morning-after footage of Murph walking his French bulldog in Williamsburg, making coffee, checking in with gear and people, and preparing to meet the band for a celebratory dinner and Marlow and Sons, which is weirdly mentioned by name several times and receives a flattering establishing shot. (Murphy and manager Keith Wood are executive producers here, so it’s unfortunate but hardly surprising that no one asks him to reflect on his side job composing Bedford Avenue jingles on commission from Madison Avenue; even this film comes stamped with the imprimatur of the Creators Project, Vice’s successful hipster corporate-branding arm.) The film ends with shots picking out the audience members most lost in the throes of exaggerated emotion, and keep cutting back and forth among them; it’s a faintly ridiculous and as an elegy it’s hardly in keeping with Murphy’s own deeply self-conscious reflections on music fandom.