Tim Grierson on the LCD Soundsystem Documentary “Shut Up and Play the Hits”


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One of the best things about James Murphy, the leader of the dance-rock group LCD Soundsystem, is that he never looked the part of a rock star. A musician and DJ, he’s a burly guy in his 40s with plenty of gray hair and a kind, doughy face. If you didn’t know who he was, you’d assume he was a journalist or a writer of fan fiction — he just looked too nerdy and, frankly, normal to lead a band.

Watching (and loving) “Shut Up and Play the Hits,” the documentary about LCD Soundsystem’s final concert, I realized it was Murphy’s deceptive normalness that helped make his group’s music so special. A man with an acerbic wit and a deep love of music history, Murphy probably understood on some level that LCD Soundsystem (which started up around the turn of the century) really didn’t fit in the current landscape, no matter how beloved and critically acclaimed they were. When he decided to retire the band with some shows in New York City — culminating in a three-and-a-half-hour finale April 2, 2011 at Madison Square Garden — he was ending LCD Soundsystem’s run prematurely by choice. He wanted to go out on top, which is a laudable decision at a time when so many artists of all different stripes want to milk their notoriety for as long as they can. But as “Shut Up and Play the Hits” demonstrates, that doesn’t mean it was an easy decision — or even necessarily the right one.

The movie, which comes out on DVD on Tuesday, is structured somewhat like “The Last Waltz,” the seminal 1978 concert film that chronicled the final show of the Band. Like in that documentary, “Shut Up and Play the Hits” cuts back and forth between performances from the final concert and interviews with the artist as he muses about his own legacy. But “Shut Up and Play the Hits” in some ways cuts deeper because of the close proximity between Murphy’s offstage moments and the show itself. They include an interview with music writer Chuck Klosterman that happened a week before the final show — which, in fact, was a sort of reenactment/refinement of an interview the two men had done a year earlier but which plays out quite naturally — and footage of Murphy’s life the day after the final show. As a consequence, this is a documentary in which the highs of a concert are intertwined with the mundane uncertainty of regular life. One moment, Murphy is playing to a sold-out Madison Square Garden. The next, he’s just a normal dude walking his dog and tying up some loose ends. For a guy who only wanted to be, in his words, “New York famous” — known and respected in the music world but not someone beset by paparazzi everywhere he goes — Murphy looks like he got what he wanted out of LCD Soundsystem, returning to being Clark Kent after his stint as indie-rock’s Superman. Still, after being Superman, it must be rather odd to just be Clark Kent.

There are plenty of concert films that are little more than fan keepsakes. Peddling a polished form of “insider access,” they show snippets of the band behind the scenes, but their real purpose is to ensure one and all that the group being featured is totally awesome and that they have the best fans in the world. In other words, they’re just big advertisements that stay on message. There’s no question “Shut Up and Play the Hits” follows this formula to some extent — although Murphy didn’t direct the film, it appears that he had a certain level of creative control — but filmmakers Dylan Southern and Will Lovelace dig deeper to ponder what it means to quit something you love while at the same time exploring precisely what made LCD Soundsystem a distinctive group. Combining New Wave synthesizers, dance-floor rhythms, occasional punk-rock energy, and self-deprecating, sarcastic lyrics, Murphy’s music dared to be brainier and funnier than his hipster contemporaries. But, crucially, it was also more joyous, which comes through loud and clear in “Shut Up and Play the Hits” and its superb live versions of “Dance Yrself Clean,” “All My Friends” and “North American Scum.” (If you only saw the film in the theater during its limited run, you’ll be happy to know that the DVD includes the complete final show.)

There are several cuts to audience reactions during the film — and, in a sign of the band’s hip appeal, we even see comedian/actor Aziz Ansari crowd-surfing — but for music that was often self-consciously cool, the crowd loves LCD Soundsystem without apology or irony. At the screening I attended months ago, some people in the theater laughed at the emotionally overwhelmed fans in the movie, perhaps assuming that the film was mocking them. I didn’t read it that way. Underneath Murphy’s smarts, which are also quite apparent in the offstage segments, there’s a sensitive soul — someone we’d usually expect to see behind some turntables or working in a record store who willed himself into becoming a front man, albeit an unconventional one. (Indeed, even when we see him at Madison Square Garden, you can’t quite believe that he’s the one largely responsible for all that music.) Rock music has been filled with superstars we could relate to because they seemed like regular guys — Bruce Springsteen, John Mellencamp, Dave Grohl — and “Shut Up and Play the Hits” makes it clear that Murphy had the same sort of connection with his audience. In his modest, Bowie-worshiping, literature-loving way, he’s just like his fans, albeit immensely talented.

“Shut Up and Play the Hits” is a celebration of that legacy, but it’s also a meditation on how nothing lasts — not success, not fame, not youth. However broadly you want to define it, rock ‘n’ roll has spent its existence trying to deny (or at least delay) that eternal truth, but Murphy’s decision to pull the plug on LCD Soundsystem acknowledges that reality head-on. Murphy will one day make music in some other form. (And, as it should be noted, there have been plenty of other bands who swore they were quitting that returned for myriad reasons, some less noble than others.) But this moment in music history is now gone.

That’s why the movie’s final emotional wallop is so richly rewarding. The title “Shut Up and Play the Hits,” which is said by Arcade Fire singer Win Butler sarcastically while on stage with LCD Soundsystem, is a nod to the fact that casual fans pay to see a show so that they can enjoy the songs they know — they don’t want to be bothered with chitchat or anything else that gets in the way. But that title is doubly ironic for James Murphy’s band. For one, they weren’t a group that had a lot of big hits. (Murphy even wrote a song about this in his typically sardonic way.) For another, as strong as the movie’s musical performances are, in the end this documentary is about those moments when Murphy isn’t focusing on “the hits” but, rather, himself. The film’s heart comes from Klosterman asking him what he thinks his group’s greatest failure is. It’s in that sense that Murphy still can’t comprehend what ending his most indelible artistic endeavor will mean to him. Even when “Shut Up and Play the Hits” concludes, the question lingers in the air, but when he finally allows himself to shut up and take it all in, it’s overpowering. Rock ‘n’ roll is often about burning out or fading away. With “Shut Up and Play the Hits,” Murphy found a third option: quitting on your own terms. The uncertainty of what happens next for him is as thrilling as any song LCD Soundsystem ever gave us.


Sweatpants 4 Ever

5 Great Moments in Sweatpants History

Spend Thanksgiving in sweatpants with IFC's Sweatsgiving Weekend.

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Photo Credit: United Artists/courtesy Everett Collection

Ah, sweatpants. They give us so much and ask for so little. Before you pull out your sweats for IFC’s Sweatsgiving weekend, take a moment to remember some iconic moments in sweatpants history.

5. Regina George wears sweatpants in public, Mean Girls

Regina George Mean Girls

Head “mean girl” Regina George discovers the wonderfully elastic qualities of sweatpants after gaining weight from the Kalteen bars Cady gave her.

4. Meg Ryan watches TV in sweatpants, Sleepless in Seattle

Everett Collection

Everett Collection

In the ultimate meta movie moment, Meg Ryan watches TV on the couch in sweatpants while scarfing on popcorn. This process would be repeated a million times over in the real world with every Meg Ryan movie ever made.

3. Johnny Depp hangs out in sweats, A Nightmare on Elm Street

Johnny Depp A Nightmare on Elm Street

Johnny Depp burst onto the movie scene in the original Nightmare on Elm Street, forever immortalizing the sweatpants and a half-shirt look. And then he was never heard from again. Whatever happened to that guy? Be sure to catch his one and only film when A Nightmare on Elm Street airs Friday, November 27th during IFC’s Sweatsgiving weekend.

2. Rocky jogs through Philly, Rocky franchise

Rocky Balboa

Robert “Rocky” Balboa brought sweatpants into movie history thanks to his triumphant training montage in Rocky. The sweatpants returned in Rocky II and Rocky Balboa, hopefully thoroughly washed.

1. That time you hung out in sweatpants and watched awesome shows and movies, IFC’s Sweatsgiving Weekend

What better way to spend Thanksgiving weekend than in your sweatpants while watching your favorite IFC shows and hit movies? All weekend long starting Thanksgiving day, IFC is airing marathons of That ’70s Show and Todd Margaret. Plus, you can scare off the calories with Nightmare on Elm Street, The Exorcist and Resident Evil movie marathons. And since you’re spending the weekend on the couch, be sure to tweet or Instagram a selfie while watching IFC with the hashtag #IFCSweatsgiving and you’ll be entered to win a sweet pair of IFC pants. Because if history has taught us anything, it’s that you can never have too many pairs of comfy pants.

Ghostbusters II 1920

Ghostbusters Sitcom

See What Ghostbusters Would Look Like As an ’80s Sitcom

See what happens when Ghostbusters meets Charles in Charge.

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Have you ever wondered what Ghostbusters would be like if it was a little more like Bosom Buddies? Check out our video that reimagines the Ivan Reitman comedy classic as a 1980s sitcom straight out of the Who’s the Boss? and Growing Pains playbook. Ghostbusters with a peppy ’80s theme song is guaranteed to make you feel good.

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That 70s eric

Attention Eric Fans!

How Well Do You Know Eric From That ’70s Show? Take the Quiz!

Catch That '70s Show Mondays & Tuesdays from 6-11P ET/PT on IFC.

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Eric Forman is the heart of the That ’70s Show gang and the frequent target of his dad Red’s insults. But do you know his roller disco name? Take the quiz below and test your knowledge on all things Eric.


Dodgeball 1920 Everett

Grab Life by the Ball

10 Things You Didn’t Know About Dodgeball

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There was a time, not long ago, when Ben Stiller, Vince Vaughn and their “Frat Pack” of fast-talking comedians ruled Hollywood. From Zoolander to Anchorman, these cut-ups couldn’t help but churn out hit after hit. Dodgeball: A True Underdog Story itself grossed $124 millon at the box office, even after every studio in town initially turned it down. Thanks to a wrench throwing Rip Torn and a Lance Armstrong cameo that’s more uncomfortable in hindsight, this little comedy that could has grown into a much-loved classic. To celebrate Comedy Crib’s new dodgeball comedy Ball or Nothing, here are a few fun facts you may not know about the comedy that told us to “grab life by the ball.”

10. The Hoff’s Cameo Was Last Minute Magic

David Hasselhoff’s cameo as coach of the German team was a last minute addition, after stunt coordinator Alex Daniel mentioned he knew the Baywatch beefcake personally.

9. Roadhouse Was An Inspiration

Stiller is a film connoisseur, so it’s no surprise he chose to honor the seminal ’80s action classic Roadhouse by using Patrick Swayze’s hairdo as inspiration for his character, calling it a “super quaffed power mullet.”

8. Justin Long Took One For The Team

Rip Torn played the wheelchair-bound coach Patches O’Houlihan who motivated the team by hurling wrenches at them. The prop wrenches were made out of rubber, but that didn’t make things easier for Justin Long, who had his eyebrow split open after one particularly hard throw. Patches (and Torn) doesn’t mess around.

7. The Director Pulled A Hitchcock

For his feature film debut, writer/director Rawson Marshall Thurber made a cameo appearance as the guy who throws a drink at Steve the Pirate in Vegas.

6. Happy Accidents Helped Make It A Classic

Vaughn’s character, Peter LaFleur, makes a unique first impression in the movie, having a group of guys push his stalled car up to the Average Joe’s gym. This was in fact a last minute addition after the car on set actually broke down.

5. Norm Macdonald Made a Cameo

In a film chock full of cameos, the most unheralded probably goes to Norm Macdonald, who was supposedly an extra in the background during the Globo Gym ad. Is that him in the clip above lifting weights next to some musclebound bro-dude? Sure looks like Norm.

4. The Film Gave a WWE Diva Her Big Break

Future WWE Diva Candice Michelle briefly appeared as a sideline dancer, long before taking her talents to the ring.

3. Patches O’Houlihan Was Inspired By The “Miracle on Ice”

Patches insults his players by saying “it’s like watching a bunch of retards trying to hump a doorknob.” This was in fact a reference to the 1980 U.S. Olympic Hockey coach Herb Brooks, who once said “it’s like watching a monkey trying to hump a football.”

2. The Writer/Director Made the Terry Tate Office Linebaker Ads

Dodgeball wasn’t Rawson Marshall Thurber first time tackling sports comedy — he got noticed after directing the memorable Reebok ads where NFL player Terry Tate enforces office etiquette through punishing tackles.

1. Dodgeball Will Be Back!

It was announced in 2013 that Dodgeball: A True Underdog Story would be getting a sequel, which will no doubt be called Dodgeball 2: The Search for Patches’ Golden Wrench.

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