illness serif;”>Ciaran Breslin explores the triumphant end of LCD Soundsytem in the light of the recent documentary Shut Up And Play The Hits
help serif;”>LCD Soundsystem are a once in a lifetime band. They are important and timeless in the same way that other pioneering bands become irrevocably associated with a time period, a sound, a mood. Like The Clash or The Beatles they have the potential, in time, to retrospectively embody a musical period. To pin a genre on them is certainly not rewarding. They don’t sound like dance-punk or electro-indie or post-disco: they sound like the musical period between the early 2000’s and now. Seeing as I am only around 22 years old, it might seem a bit disingenuous to claim to be a long-term disciple or authority on the band; I was fourteen and probably largely oblivious when they released their debut album. But my musical tastes matured along with the band’s career. What I was listening to by the time I got a bit older was informed by the same school of music from which LCD graduated. It’s like the way everyone goes through a phase of loving Punk or Madchester or even Led Zeppelin or someone like that. You discover these exciting, fantastic bands, and you become briefly obsessed before you find the disconnect: just how much can you wear Fred Perry and listen to the Jam before it rings hollow. They might be iconic, generation shaping musical movements, but it’s not your generation. LCD Soundsytem shaped our generation.
The documentary (and the final shows in Madison Square Garden around which its based) is an inspired way to end the band. James Murphy has never been shy about courting the more commercial side of the industry, recording a 45 minute long track commissioned for a Nike athletic campaign and having several LCD tracks popping up on adverts and game soundtracks. The idea of the documentary, and the involvement of people like Spike Jonze, is another embrace of modernity, an affirmation of the band willingness to contemporise and experiment. Similarly, the appearance of Arcade Fire on stage to perform North American Scum doesn’t ring hollow, the idea of selling out or anything like that is never entertained: LCD are in complete control of their destiny and this is how they’re going to do it. And because of that, it’s a visually stunning piece of work.
The action opens, aptly enough, on the minute after the end, as they walk offstage for the last time and the roadies clear away their gear. The next ten minutes prepare us for how the film will operate: it cuts variously from Murphy alone making coffee in his apartment to a couple of arty shot media interviews where we hear sage and for the most part, interesting questions about the nature of music-as-art and legacy, spliced in between the band interacting backstage before the final show, not visibly nervous, just excited and attractive. All this however, is completely blown from your mind around eleven minutes in when the first extended footage from the concert is debuted. Dance Yrself Clean explodes from the screen, again brilliantly shot and with impeccable sound quality. It comes as a reminder of why we’re watching, what all the fuss is about. Forget all the analytical stuff about art, about shaping generations, it just sounds fresh and familiar and joyful and fantastic.
This is how the action continues, with songs vying for time with backstage action and the constant interview of Murphy. It makes for compelling viewing, with nothing really on screen long enough to get boring, and often interesting things not being on screen long enough. The atmospheric shots of New York are beautiful and work brilliantly with the examination of the Murphy’s intentions and influences, so tied in as they are with the city. Everything is seamlessly edited. “What was the ambition” asks our un-named interviewer, over a shot of Murphy getting on the Subway at sunset. “To leave a mark I guess. To leave a stain” comes the reply, as the unmistakable opening of All My Friends jolts the camera back to slow motion shots of Madison Square Garden going crazy. For this is probably LCD Soundsystem’s mark. Their finest, most poignant, most iconic moment. The director has enough good sense to just let the whole song play out. “To tell the truth, this could be the last time” sings Murphy knowingly, a song probably as entwined with the emotional, modern, coming-of-age anxiety and apathy of the 21st century as no other.
Visually the highlight is probably Us Vs Them, when a massive discoball is revealed halfway through, strobe-ing the packed out audience as they dance furiously. The swopping of audio from Murphy’s dissection of Losing My Edge in the interview with footage from the performance of the song is another excellent moment, providing incisive exploration of Murphy’s influences behind the beginning of the band. Later Murphy gives a rambling onstage speech introducing Arcade Fire which finally segueways into the most fun song of the set, devoid for a moment of the poignancy that permeates most of the night, as it seems everyone in New York is compelled to joyfully scream along to North Amercian Scum. More footage of Murphy explaining his reasons for ending the band, a nostalgic last meal between all the members and a symbolic goodbye between them threatens for a moment to become over sentimental before giving way to an emotional performance of Someone Great which rescues any fears that the sentimentality might briefly feel contrived.
The film undoubtedly stands as the Last Waltz of a generation, and remains every bit as relevant for this generation as that was back then. Perhaps it’s the proclivity of James Murphy to deal simultaneously with themes of creative fecundity and lethargy, or perhaps to put it another way, to address the polarity between artistry and artificiality, that makes the whole project (the band, the concerts, the legacy) ring so true in our modern era. The second last scene sees Murphy looking at the old equipment before it gets sold, the guitars and amps and keyboards, and briefly shedding a few tears, the only time in the film in which the obvious emotion onstage is ever really acknowledged offstage. And with that, we’re back at what Murphy calls “this weird thing in a boxing arena”, an aptly ridiculous venue for what started as a single underground dance movement and is now filling out the biggest stadium in Manhattan. The final song, inevitably, is New York I Love You (But You’re Bringing Me Down). The slow build up to the familiar emotionally charged crescendo ends the concert, ends the film and ends the band. As thousands of white balloons cascade into the arena both the band and audience are in tears at the end of something truly influential and special.