Shut Up And Play The Hits And James Murphy’s Legacy: A Friendly Chat


Nick Murray: So we’re here today to talk about Shut Up and Play the Hits, the new film (out tomorrow and tomorrow only) that captures LCD Soundsystem’s final concert and follows the band’s frontman, the inimitable James Murphy, as he embarks on what his British, kind of corny manager might have at one point described as the next chapter of his life. Turning to you, Luis, there’s a lot we could potentially talk about here—the band’s music, their legacy, what Murphy means by whimsical socks—but let’s start with the basics: What did you think of the film? And were you at that Madison Square Garden show?

Luis Paez-Pumar: Well, I was at the show, although I didn’t plan to be. I had missed out on the presale but had gotten to go to two of the Terminal 5 shows. Thankfully, a friend had an extra ticket day of, so I did that. As for the film, I think it’s a great companion piece to the unedited footage that has been floating around since seemingly the day after. It captures what I imagined the pit experience to be (I had a seat stage right), and there’s a joy portrayed on film that matches what I felt that night. Like the quote that starts the film says, it was the best funeral ever. Or maybe just one great party. Were you there? I’d love to hear if you thought it matched up to the electricity of the live experience.

NM: Sadly, I was not there, but I completely believe what you’re saying—James Murphy’s sound editing was more immediate than any concert audio I’ve heard in a long time. I also agree about how joyous it often felt, and that’s where I thought the film was at its best, those slow-motion sequences of kids jumping wildly in the air because their favorite band is playing their favorite song.

Beyond that, though, I have to admit that I left the theater a bit unsatisified. For all the directors’ ambition, I found it sort of fascinating how Shut Up and Play the Hits turned out to be little more than the negative of, say, Justin Bieber’s Never Say Never, another ‘rockumentary’ centered around a sold-out performance at Madison Square Garden. But while Bieber had long dreamed of playing the venue, Murphy tells interviewer Chuck Klosterman that he never even wanted to play shows in the first place; and while Bieber’s film sets him up as a precocious musical whiz kid, Murphy claims that the biggest misperception people have about the band is that “[they] think we’re special.” It’d be worth comparing the descriptions of the crying teen girls in line to see Bieber with the crying early 20-somethings hugging it out to “Someone Great,” but we’ll save that for a pair of writers more ambitious, or at least more masochistic. Either way, does that comparison make sense? And do you think that beyond the live footage, the film actually offered some insight into Murphy’s thought process or those questions of what it means to form a band or call it quits?

LPP: I can’t say that I’ve seen Never Say Never, but from what I’ve read about it, you’re not far off with your comparison. There does seem to be a more negative, or perhaps more realistic, tone to the interview parts with Klosterman. And that’s where this film will succeed or fail: How do audiences react to Murphy’s answers? He was very honest and consistent with everything we have heard from him: He was tired, he wants a family, he thought that it was a great way to go out. The most telling moment of the interview scenes is when Klosterman asks him what his biggest failure was, and Murphy thinks that maybe it was quitting when they did. It’s not regret, but it does clue you in on the fact that he loved what he was doing, maybe too much to risk failing at it.

My one complaint with the film had to do with all of the day-after footage. I get that it’s supposed to show that he is starting a new life and how maybe that’s something he doesn’t have in order, but the portrayal feels almost too blunt. That being said, the best scene in the movie is when he breaks down and starts crying in storage by himself. It’s raw emotion that works better than everything else that happens after the show. I mean, a scene as he goes over the Williamsburg Bridge? C’mon. Now, my question to you is this: Do you think that there will be a visceral reaction to the film in theaters? LCD has always been about knocking down these walls of “hipster irony” that Murphy is self-aware enough to realize affect much of his audience. Will this film get people dancing?

NM: Yeah, Murphy’s answer to that question was one of my favorite parts of the movie, as it’s there that we get the best sense that he doesn’t just that regret quitting—who wouldn’t?—but that he fears his quitting is selfish, even as playing with the band is literally destroying his body. I felt otherwise about the alone-in-room-crying-on-the-equipment scene though. It’s emotional, sure, but I had trouble buying to the rawness of this guy who’s producing a movie about himself bringing a camera crew to the warehouse then sitting in front of the camera and weeping.

Which isn’t to say I wouldn’t recommend this movie. I would! Really! If you’re looking to get out of the heat tomorrow or watch a concert on the big screen, this is still better than Katy Perry: Part of Me. I don’t know if it will get people dancing in their seats, but I was definitely wiggling in mine, maybe tapping my feet a little harder than I should have. But as we approach our word count, do you have anything for closing thoughts? Maybe in accordance with Klosterman’s interview style, you can start to say something insightful and I’ll interrupt to offer one of my half-baked theories.

LPP: There’s definitely a reality TV vibe of forcing that scene, but at the same time, who wouldn’t break down when faced with the physical embodiment of an “End,” capital E? It wasn’t just that Murphy left when he stepped off the Madison Square Garden stage; he also left a big part of himself there at the arena. He will probably never be known as anything other than “the dude from LCD,” and that’s a hard identity to shed. In a way, this is like a great athlete getting a career-ending broken leg in his prime, but on purpose. It’s a tough choice, but at the end of the day, we don’t know how much touring was taking out of Murphy.

If the last new piece of LCD Soundsystem content that we get is this concert film, I won’t be disappointed. Combine it with the concert footage and you’ve got a hell of a package. So long as the people onscreen don’t resume making music together, the movie will always be tinged in sadness, and Murphy crying in that warehouse seems to be the moment, real or forced, that breakup finally sets in. This movie definitely has the sense of a period more than an exclamation mark at the end of what wasn’t really that long of a stretch for a band that mattered heavily to one group of people. I don’t have an insightful conclusion based around this one piece of cinema, but maybe that’s the point. Like Murphy, we don’t know how to live in an LCD Soundsystem-less world, and after tomorrow’s showings, a lot of people will feel like it’s the end of an era.

NM: I can buy that, even if I’m a bit less anxious about the idea of a world without LCD. Afterall, we’ll always have Special Disco Version, and if things go according to plan, those whimsical socks.

Shut Up And Play The Hits screens tomorrow at select area theaters.


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