Jonny J was kind enough to take point on LCD Soundsystem’s documentary which played for one night only in select theaters this past week. A big thank you is in order for Jon as he purchased a pair of tickets for him and I to the last show as an early birthday present for me last spring. I shared the concert with someone great!
I was fortunate enough to see LCD Soundsystem’s rock-doc in Astoria’s Museum of the Moving Image, where the theater acoustics were the most perfect I have heard in any theater to date. The concert segments made you feel you were actually at the show, superbly recorded in audio and film.
The film opens with the words “if it’s a funeral, let’s have the best funeral ever” fading in and out. Clips from Murphy’s last television appearance are shown before LCD Soundsystem’s “last show ever” at Madison Square Garden on April 2nd, 2011. This particular appearance is on Comedy Central’s Colbert Report where Steven Colbert asks him what everyone wants to know: why walk away from fame? Murphy says since he started in the music business so late as a performer (his late 30′s) and he wants to go back to the life he had beforehand, there are things he wants to go back and do.
Colbert asks him, “Like what?”
Murphy replies “I really like making coffee…”
Then we see James Murphy groggily waking up with his ugly-yet-cute French Bulldog the morning after LCD’s final show. His apartment is dead silent apart from Murphy checking a voice mail left from his manager, brit Keith Wood, making sure that Murphy was alive after last night’s celebrating. Murphy reluctantly gets out of bed to walk and feed his dog…and make coffee.
Cut to an extra-loud but tight, energized performance of LCD’s opening song the previous night “Dance Yrself Clean.” The performance is shown in its entirety and is just as enjoyable seeing it up close than from the upper-tier vantage point I occupied at the show. This stark contrast between Murphy’s rock star life and normalcy is striking and becomes the whole focus of the movie. The film jumps back and forth from Murphy’s now somewhat eerie normal life, taking care of his dog, shaving, making coffee, getting coffee with his manager, walking down the street with barely anyone noticing who he is, to the performances Murphy and his band put every last ounce of energy into for the fans that historic night.
Now he’s being interviewed by music journalist Chuck Klosterman in a cafe. Murphy says he normally doesn’t agree to interviews because the questions are dumb, for example someone asked him: “So did Daft Punk really play at your house?” Klosterman was instead interested in getting to the bottom of why Murphy hung up the microphone. Why did Murphy feel it was time to quit? To retire from the music game with his most successful project to date: LCD Soundsystem? Murphy summarizes he’s now 41, he wants to get married, he wants a family, he was growing too many gray hairs, that he didn’t want to be on tour the rest of his life. Klosterman then asks him a very interesting question (I don’t remember exact words): something along the lines of “Every great band or musician had some failure along the way and that it helps define them, what do you feel was your failure?” Murphy responded: “As much as I believe I retired for all the right reasons…and I’m not sure if this is my failure YET…but…quitting.”
It is revealed during the live intro to “North American Scum,” where the title of the documentary is derived. Win Butler of Arcade Fire yells “Shut up and play the hits!” to Murphy as he is rambling while introducing supporting background vocalists and musicians pre-song.
The concert footage is all fantastic. Shots of the crowd and seeing their various raw emotions on display is pretty spectacular too. They’re screaming their lungs out during “All My Friends,” making out during “Someone Great,” moshing during “Movement,” bouncing up and down like human waves throughout the concert. As the final note is played and the band leaves the stage after the encore, there are fans disguised as panda bears crying and one young male fan in particular who isn’t ashamed to hide his tears.
Perhaps the most touching part is towards the end of the film. Murphy arrives alone at a room, presumably in a warehouse or the Garden that is serving as storage for most of the gear utilized at the final show. As Murphy sits at a director’s chair, looking at all of the stuff, he begins humming in the same key as the droning ventilation system. He gets up to look at more things, then, standing there he can’t hold back the emotion any longer and sobs.
Going back to the quote in the beginning (“If it’s a funeral let’s have the best funeral ever”) the keyword is “If.” The ending left me with hope that perhaps this really isn’t the end of LCD Soundsystem. But then again, it probably is. James Murphy wanted it this way, whether he and the fans, are truly happy about it or not.
Performances, drawing heavily from the Sound of Silver album:
Dance Yrself Clean
45:33 Part Two with Reggie Watts (a major highlight for me at the show)
North American Scum
Someone Great (Didn’t notice this at the show but Murphy breaks down crying at the end of the song, bandmate Nancy Whang gives him an ‘are you ok?/it’s ok, get-back-in-the-game look)
Sound of Silver intro
Us v Them
Yeah (Crass Version)
All My Friends
Losing My Edge (Chuck Klosterman reveals he thinks this is James Murphy’s best song)
Into the Fire (Harry Nilsson cover)
New York I Love You But You’re Bringing Me Down (this is played while cutting back and forth from the live performance and Murphy riding alone silently in a cab, on the way to meet his now-former bandmates at a restaurant for dinner and drinks. In Muphy’s words, he “wants to see everyone one last time before they all disappear.”)