James Murphy never wanted LCD Soundsystem: He was, first and foremost, a music producer. That means working behind the scenes, but that seems to fit him just fine, as he described in Shut Up and Play the Hits, the documentary that chronicles the 48 hours before, during and after LCD’s last legendary concert.
LCD would never have existed without the work of others: “All I Want,” for example, liberally plagiarizes David Bowie’s “Heroes.” But when he copies, whatever Murphy produces is easily recognizable as his. The Rapture’s “House of Jealous Lovers” was a pretty unremarkable song until Murphy added the cowbell that made it into the dance-punk anthem it is.
So when he released LCD’s first single, “Losing My Edge,” and gave his behind-the-scenes work a face, it shoved him into a spotlight that he didn’t want. What was a snide jab at hipsters suddenly turned into a demand for more. He had to turn down offers to produce an Arcade Fire album twice. His health sustained on a cocktail of heart, migraine and throat medications. “I’ve watched too many artists in my life forget how good the things they used to do were,” he told The New York Times.
LCD was taking a toll on his spirit and ending it was the best thing to do. But if he had to end LCD, he would end it in the biggest way possible, with a four-hour “LAST SHOW EVER!” in Madison Square Garden. He played almost every LCD song, including the 45-minute long 45:33. His insistence that everything must be done live turned into a huge enterprise with at least 20 people running around onstage. There was even a guy who just played cowbells.
But Shut Up and Play the Hits, with its multiple angles and high definition cameras, shows that it wasn’t the wild party that everybody saw more than a year ago: He was already pulling back, dwarfed by the epic setup of equipment, the chaotic arrangement of wires and the wall of lights. When he wasn’t singing, he hid behind a synth behind another synth. He deferred to other guests to play solos. No other band would play for four hours, but many others had to make up for Murphy’s fatigue. “I heard that you, I heard that you…” he repeated, clearly exhausted, in “Losing My Edge.”
Even if he didn’t want to have a show for a band he never wanted, LCD was never about him; it was about others. He broke out a huge crystal ball in “Us V Them” and brought Arcade Fire onstage in “North American Scum.” “Thanks for supporting this weird … thing,” Murphy told the crowd. “We started as a bunch of idiots, and we still are.” Towards the end, he hugged his bandmates, looking both ecstatic and mournful. Backstage, someone asked Murphy whether he still wanted to do the last three songs. “Yeah, let’s do all three,” he said, on the verge of collapse, before going on stage and throwing some water bottles to the crowd.
As typical of all LCD shows, he ended with “New York, I Love You But You’re Bringing Me Down,” but there was something glaringly different this time: As Murphy said “this is our last song,” the realization that it was LCD’s last song ever hit everybody really quickly. The crowd groaned and the band looked uneasy, but Murphy was indifferent. “Okay, let me point this out, that even at the end of our band I didn’t fucking say to you, ‘oh no.’ This is our last song!” As all of Madison Square Garden dimmed to images of New York City, the piano cabaret exploded into a torrent of balloons.
And Shut Up and Play the Hits, which got its name from Win Butler’s outburst at Murphy before “North American Scum,” shows Murphy the day after, snoozing in yesterday’s tuxedo shirt. He pops some pills, makes a cup of espresso and walks his dog. Then he goes to the equipment room, humming quietly before crying over the LCD branded instruments, not knowing whether ending it was the right thing to do. At the pivotal point of the non-concert part of the documentary, Murphy dodges interviewer Chuck Klosterman’s question about his biggest failure, before admitting that he feared he might regret quitting.
But, as proved by New York, the city he can’t imagine not being part of, life moves on. He’s opening up a record store and a coffee shop. He collaborated with Damon Albarn and Andre 3000. He was getting over it, but Shut Up and Play the Hits was holding him back: He still had to mix this one last concert. After a couple of false starts, this three-disc movie and concert sets us free from that horrible Pitchfork stream and digs into Murphy’s mindset, even though that was the last thing he needed to revisit. LCD was and still isn’t about him, but he can finally let go.
Shut Up and Play the Hits is now available on DVD and Blu-ray.