Smile Politely

Your invite to LCD Soundsystem’s funeral

With or without his suit, James Murphy is mortal. And he is aware of his mortality, making LCD Soundsystem —a project that he began over 10 years ago— bound to his will and human fallibility.

The death metaphor is present in Shut Up and Play the Hits, starting with the film opening:  “If it’s a funeral, let’s have the best funeral ever.” But this isn’t a death without a rebirth. It’s just that Murphy is looking for a type of rebirth different than what his fans are seeking. Murphy is killing off his music so that a new part of his life can bloom.

So he attempts to pull off a “high school play” at Madison Square Garden (MSG). His end is “strangely controlled,” as Chuck Klosterman—who so aptly interviews Murphy in the film—points out.

Murphy is consciously deciding to “walk away from fame,” as Steven Colbert suggests in a clip from The Colbert Report, where LCD Soundsystem’s made their last TV performance.

Murphy isn’t unaffected in the film by his decision to implode his livelihood, traversing a range of emotions in the film about the entirety of his experience. He dreams, he feels, he wonders. “If you believe in a band and people you make music for, is that a good enough reason to quit?” Murphy asks.

Murphy was a late-bloomer in the music world, starting in his 30s. Now at age 42, Murphy’s talk with Klosterman reveals a sensitive family-minded man. He has matured since his days when he read Pynchon’s Gravity’s Rainbow just to be cool.  That was the time that he thought, “If I lived in New York or London…”

Now Murphy realizes that some of those rock star myths are borne-in and unattainable. “Bowie is from mars. He’s from outer space.” Murphy goes on to add that you can wear sunglasses and a leather jacket and not talk much but that you couldn’t be Lou Reed.

The juxtaposition is evident as Murphy points out that he’s wearing his dad’s watch, which of course doesn’t make him his dad, but that’s the trajectory that his life seems to be taking. Touring has aged him. “I didn’t start a band, just made an album. I never wanted to tour and all the bullshit. It seemed stupid.”

Now he wants to make coffee and start a family.

The film is a mix of outstanding live performance from April 2, 2011 at MSG, great discussion between Murphy and Klosterman, and Murphy hanging out with his French Bulldog the day before and the day after the show.

Shut Up and Play the Hits is a film that you definitely want to see in a theater, if nothing else than for the sound alone. When Murphy belts out “Movement,” he puts viewers among the blood-pumping frenzy of the crowd and nearing the feeling of combustion. 

Klosterman orchestrates the interview with Murphy masterfully and his focus centers on a deeper self-reflection that targets the part of the human condition that makes us interested enough in ourselves to talk about what we think and feel—that “underlying loneliness and desire to be understood”—and what allows us to empathize with others. Viewers become part of the energetic and emotional backdrop of the crowd and the film itself, watching Murphy’s every move and his ability to make the mundane look and feel like art. Of course, credit is due to filmmakers Will Lovelace and Dylan Southern (directors), Reed Morano (Cinematography), Mark Burnett (editor), and their cast and crew as well.

The film closes in perfect form, with an emotional rendition of “Someone Great” and the appropriately situated “NY, I Love You but You’re Bringing Me Down.” Murphy shows that he’s fallible and leaves us with that burning question: So what happens when someone great is gone? 

It’s the way I’d want my funeral to be: heartfelt, sensitive, and celebratory.

4/4 Stars

Live performance track listing:
1. Dance Yrself Clean
2. Movement
3. All My Friends
4. Us V Them
5. 45:33
6. Losing My Edge
7. North American Scum (w/Arcade Fire)
8. Yeah
9. Someone Great
10. New York, I Love You but You’re Bringing Me Down

Shut Up and Play the Hits is the late-night movie at the Art Theater and plays Friday and Saturday at 10 p.m., Sunday at noon, and Thursday, August 16 at 10 p.m. Tickets are $5.


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