Last week, I caught a midnight screening of Shut Up and Play the Hits, Will Lovelace and Dylan Southern’s documentary capturing LCD Soundsystem’s final concert in Madison Square Garden and the ensuing day, as James Murphy makes his peace with the end of his band.
The late-night crowd, replete with LCD fans, was enthusiastic and the screening was entertaining.
The film itself nicely captured that swan-song performance as well as Murphy’s sadness and satisfaction in its aftermath. Any film featuring a full-length performance of “All My Friends” and a crowd-surfing Aziz Ansari has a lot going for it right out of the gate. But the documentary isn’t perfect.
A few minutes in, Murphy sits by himself at a café waiting to be interviewed, on what appears to be the day of the final show. His interrogator walks in, sits down, and begins talking…
Chuck Klosterman is a persistent pea under the mattress throughout the film. Over and over again, Lovelace and Southern cut back to the interview, either in sound, picture or both. While Murphy’s answers to Klosterman’s inane questions are thoughtful and interesting, we still have to hear the questions. And the grating voice that asks those questions. And be exposed to the “provocative” mind that thinks up those questions.
Every time we cut from a searing live performance of “Yeah” or “North American Scum” to Klosterman positing one of his inane pop culture theories to Murphy, the film’s momentum halts in the brutal fashion possible. As with every Chuck Klosterman interview, regardless of whether he is the questioner or the questionee, Klosterman is the star of his own show.
We’re actually forced to sit there and listen, in a film about the last days of LCD Soundsystem, to Klosterman’s ridiculous theory that Michael Jordan is defined by his singular failure of gambling addiction. I’m sure Bill Simmons and Malcolm Gladwell giggled with delight as the rest of the “Shut Up And Play the Hits” audience groaned and contemplated a bathroom break.
And that’s not all. Here are a few other theories Klosterman tossed around in the guise of interview queries. Thankfully, many of these ended up on the cutting room floor, but will likely be included in the DVD extended cut:
- “James, I have a theory that bands who quit after three albums have a career path that echoes the three Reichs in German history. That would make This is Happening your version of Nazism — or, perhaps, just your political statement on the impact that war reparations had on mid-century Germany. Thoughts?”
- “Jim, I have a question. Cinderella is the most important American band of the last 40 years. [pause] Well? What’s your answer?”
- “Jimmy, in the obvious analogy between electronic music and Melrose Place in its prime, you’re clearly Jake. But who is Billy? And who is Michael? Is Aphex Twin Michael?”
- “Jimbo, let me explain to you why the second verse of “All My Friends” has such a strange and intimate connection to my memories of the 1992 Portland Trail Blazers…”
- “Murph, which side do you take in the Great Ace of Base Vs. Aqua Debate? It would seem to me that “I Can Change” off your last album states your position clearly for the record…”
- “Jimmy Jam, when you sing that you’re “losing your edge,” do you mean that you’re developing a spiritual ennui about the bulk of U2’s 1980s classic guitar solos, or is it a commentary on the forced retirement of WWE wrestler Edge?”
- “JM, my theory is that artists and athletes who retire in their prime do so because of a deeply held fear of turning into The Facts of Life circa seasons 8 and 9. In that scenario, do you relate more to Tootie or to Jo’s boyfriend Snake?”
- “J-Dog, I think that the reason Tim Tebow is popular is not because of his religion or his fourth-quarter comebacks, but because he reminds us all of The Best of Times, starring Robin Williams and Kurt Russell. Agree?”
- “Murphtown, I have a thought-provoking theory about your band. Because I am willing to think outside the box, my wild ideas may frighten and confuse you — but please, hear me out. I think your relationship to Nancy in the band is like the imaginary friendship between Kid Icarus from the Nintendo game Kid Icarus and Toucan Sam from Froot Loops. Now, your drummer is like…”
This is what James Murphy looks like after enduring a Chuck Klosterman interview: