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In concert film, a last waltz for LCD Soundsystem
Question of the Day
NEW YORK (AP) - Asked to characterize “Shut Up and Play the Hits,” a concert film that documents LCD Soundsystem’s final, oft-mythologized show at Madison Square Garden, James Murphy deadpans a television promo.
“Middle-age guy stops band. Pictures at 11.”
The film, which plays in theaters for one night Wednesday, is a kind of “The Last Waltz” for a new generation: an adored band going out with a self-induced, possibly premature bang. But it’s also, as the filmmakers Dylan Southern and Will Lovelace say, “a character study” of Murphy, whose decision to end LCD Soundsystem is as curious to the man who made it as it is to anybody.
“I still don’t know if it’s the right decision,” says Murphy. “I felt like it was the right decision for the moment and you only have that. And I’m OK with that. I regret it sometimes. I don’t know if I regret it, but I’m sad sometimes. I’m like, `Oh, it would be fun to play with those guys.’ Or I see a band that stinks and I’m like, `Let’s go wipe them off, stop them from playing.’”
The movie is an occasion not only to lead new ears to LCD Soundsystem and let their fans relive a concert that seemed to define an era of New York music, but a chance to unpack LCD Soundsystem _ an alternatively ironic and sincere groove-based outfit that made cerebral electronic dance music with pristine production and propulsive rhythms.
“We did a bunch of things that I’m only figuring out now,” Murphy says. “We were cooler than I thought we were. But we didn’t rest on it because I didn’t think we were cool. So I don’t feel like we sold out too bad.”
In a recent interview at his newly purchased Williamsburg loft, Murphy, a kickboxing enthusiast, had the restlessness of a fighter without a bout on the horizon. “I’m not retired,” he says, feigning a golf swing. But a kind of post-LCD limbo has taken hold. Recalling the day’s decisions, he says, “I forgot to eat. Should I make a juice or should I fry an egg? I don’t have eggs. Should I rent a Zip car?”
“That’s kind of what’s going on now,” says Murphy, laughing.
The thinly-bearded, outwardly-placid 42-year-old’s colorful conversation often resembles his lyrics: layers of self-deprecation, self-aware analysis and musical references that dot from Harry Nilsson to the Smiths to OutKast.
But, like a bank robber turned clean, he’s missing the juice _ the thrill of pushing further, sounding better and rocking harder than the band next door. LCD Soundsystem, he says, was motivated to improve by great live bands like Arcade Fire and the Flaming Lips, and, alternatively, would relish blowing away weaker, less-driven competition. “Have some pride, man,” he says, disgusted. “Go fight.”
Yet stopping LCD Soundsystem was partly a gesture of surrender. After three acclaimed albums that concluded with 2010’s “This Is Happening,” the band was only gaining in popularity and had built a crystal-clear, pulsating live act on par with “Stop Making Sense”-era Talking Heads.
When Murphy _ a punk band veteran and co-founder of DFA Records who was already 35 when the group debuted _ gazed at his future, he saw never-ending three-year cycles of writing, recording and touring. He feared continual life on the road would carry him through middle age and propel him into a more public lifestyle.
“I don’t want to be a famous person,” he says. “That’s what’s next. That’s the next step, especially with an American band. Just make the same record seven times and then you’re huge.”
But the recalibration hasn’t worked the way Murphy hoped. He still doesn’t want to reconstitute LCD Soundsystem, but his plan for leisure and professional freedom has been bedeviled by other encroachments.
Murphy, a detail-oriented obsessive (he’s shown in the film managing the backstage wristbands at MSG), became heavily involved in the post-production of the documentary, particularly the audio mix for concert footage. He also helped cut a 3 1/2 hr., music-only version.
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