Vivid Sydney Daily Report #10: LCD Soundsystem’s ‘Shut Up and Play the Hits’

After a big week-or-so of performances from Amon Tobin, Seekae and Janelle Monae to name but a few, Vivid Sydney wrapped up its music schedule last night a very special movie screening: the Australian premiere of Shut Up and Play the Hits, the documentary following the final days of LCD Soundsystem. Caitlin Welsh caught James Murphy’s silver screen farewell, while we chatted to the technical minds behind this year’s interactive MCA faí§ade.

‘Shut Up and Play the Hits’ premiere:

– Caitlin Welsh

Because I am a bitter old woman and enjoy fun pastimes such as cutting off my nose to spite my face, I didn’t watch the four-hour stream of LCD Soundsystem’s final show at Madison Square Garden last year. I wasn’t there, and I never will have been, and having it beamed to my laptop at ten in the morning in Sydney wouldn’t have changed that. But oh man, if I wasn’t mad about missing it then, I sure am now.

Shut Up And Play The Hits is a concert film, and a great one, but it’s also a portrait of the man behind LCD Soundsystem, one that directors Will Lovelace and Dylan Southern have imbued with the episodic, pensive feel of an indie film. After opening with a deafening wash of tinnitus white noise and quick-cut shots of the aftermath of that final show – the same way war movies recreate the sensation of shell shock, with keening noise and lens flare – we see James Murphy awakening the next morning, still wearing his white dress shirt and white wristband. We follow him through the day after the last-ever show: ignoring calls from his manager, shaving off the beard he wore for the last show, adding plaid PJ pants to the dress shirt when taking his French bulldog out to pee; trotting around New York getting coffee and running errands with a pensive, vague expression.

Keep in mind that, as drummer Pat Mahoney points out in the exceedingly dull post-film Q&A, this film is part of Murphy’s work as well, that he’s been in control of his portrayal; but as we flit between the show itself and the two framing devices of the film (Murphy’s day-after, and a rather heavy interview with Chuck Klosterman) it’s clear he has his doubts about ending LCD. People talk about burning out or fading away as if those are the only two options. Here is a man who’s about to lick his finger and pinch out the wick.

The tagline for the film is “if it’s a funeral, let’s make it the best funeral ever”. It does have that vibe of celebrating a life, as the platitude goes, and the show footage is truly spectacular – dynamic and sweaty and grand and intimate. But there’s a down note through it that reflects Murphy and the band’s combined resignation and uncertainty about the end. The shots of fans reveling fully in the last time they get to hear these songs live have almost as much pathos as the inconsolable teenager or dude in the panda suit who can’t believe it’s over; every lyric seems to have pre-empted this moment: “This could be the last time”, “maybe I’m right, maybe I’m wrong”, “someone great is gone”.

This Opera House crowd is clearly full of LCD fans, or at least there are more of them than there are Sydney Film Festival patrons (this is a joint presentation). The smattering of applause after the on-screen, year-old performance of All My Friends (one of the best songs written this century, one I’d fight bare-knuckled for) says it all. It’s hard to gauge what the appeal of SUAPTH would be to the casual pop listener, but for LCD fans, it serves as an apology, a farewell, an explanation, a poor fucking substitute, a raw love letter. It takes them that little bit closer to being truly iconic, and it’s hard not to come out loving them more.