NPR

LCD Soundsystem's Final Bash, Relived

James Murphy on stage at Madison Square Garden last year, during LCD Soundsystem's final concert. (Oscilloscope Laboratories)

For an indie band, it seems almost impossible to achieve massive commercial success without losing credibility. LCD Soundsystem may have figured out the secret.

The New York band, mostly through the efforts of its frontman, James Murphy, has a sound that's not quite electronic, not quite punk rock and not quite dance. (Whatever it is, though, it makes you want to dance.) The lyrics — poignant, ironic, revealing — add to the appeal. It's a marketable appeal at that: Two years ago the band's third album, This Is Happening, debuted in the Billboard Top 10.

Of course, other indie bands have cracked the top of the charts now and then. Here's the thing that makes the members of LCD Soundsystem different from just about anyone else at the top of their game: They quit. Three albums in, with sold-out shows and overwhelming critical acclaim, Murphy pulled the plug on it all.

The decision was complicated. Murphy acknowledges as much in a new documentary called Shut Up and Play the Hits, which will play in theaters for one night only on July 18. The film follows LCD Soundsystem through its final concert, a nearly four-hour, sold-out affair at Madison Square Garden last April. It also tracks Murphy offstage, winding down and reflecting during the band's final days.

"I don't want to be a famous person — I like riding the subway, I like eating food, I like being a normal person," Murphy tells an interviewer at one point. "I'm 41 — I don't think I could adjust to the kind of weird dichotomy. But is that a good enough reason? If you believe in your band and you claim to like music, and you claim to like making music for people, is that a good enough reason to quit?"

Will Lovelace and Dylan Southern are the directors of Shut Up and Play the Hits. In the full version of this segment, they share stories with NPR's David Greene about the making of the film, as well as their own perspective on the end of LCD Soundsystem. To hear the interview, click the audio link on this page.

Copyright 2014 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

Transcript

DAVID GREENE, HOST:

For an indie band, it seems almost impossible to achieve massive commercial success without losing credibility. But the band LCD Soundsystem may have figured out the secret. The New York band, mostly through the efforts of their frontman, James Murphy, pound this irresistible blend that's not quite electronic, not quite punk rock and not quite dance. Whatever it is, though, it makes you want to dance.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG)

LCD SOUNDSYSTEM: (Singing) I'm gonna dance myself clean...

GREENE: The lyrics - poignant, ironic and revealing - all add to the appeal. And it was definitely a marketable appeal. Two years ago, their third album debuted in the Billboard top ten. Then again other indie bands have done that. Here's the thing that makes them different than just about anyone else at the top of their game:

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

GREENE: They quit.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

GREENE: Three albums in, sold out shows, overwhelming critical acclaim - that is when James Murphy, the frontman, pulled the plug on it all. The decision was complicated and Murphy acknowledges as much in a new documentary called "Shut Up and Play the Hits." The film follows LCD Soundsystem on their final concert - a nearly four-hour sold out affair at Madison Square Garden. The film also tracks James Murphy offstage, winding down, reflecting in the final days for the band. The directors, Will Lovelace and Dylan Southern, join me now to talk more. Guys, welcome.

WILL LOVELACE: Hello.

DYLAN SOUTHERN: Thank you. Nice to be here.

GREENE: I was struck by how much fun they seemed to be having onstage. I mean, James Murphy and the other members of the band. I mean, they're interacting, they're smiling at one another. I mean, is that something that was sort of notable with this group?

SOUTHERN: Yeah, I mean, I think actually one of the reasons why we were interested in them as a subject for this film was that they were a really good bunch of friends. They hadn't fallen out. Onstage, you certainly got the impression that they were sort of definitely enjoying the last time they'd ever play together and play in this sort of biggest show they'd ever played as well.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

LOVELACE: It's where you could see them kind of counting off the songs, you know. It went from that kind of sense of elation at the start of the show.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG)

SOUNDSYSTEM: (Singing) The time has come, the time has come, the time has come, the time has come today.

LOVELACE: But there's also that kind of sadness that you could see that each time they played another song that's the last time they're going to play that one, you know, live forever. You know, so, it was kind of bittersweet, I think, the concert.

GREENE: What did it involve in making this film, the portion of it in Madison Square Garden? I was amazed at the close-ups you were getting. I mean, how many cameras are we talking about? What kind of challenge was it to have cameras in the right places?

LOVELACE: So, I think we had 13 cameras all together and we shot in a very old school way. Because normally when a crew walk up to a show like that, they'll bring, like, a big outside broadcast van and they'll be able to monitor what every camera is shooting. And we're huge fans of kind of like those old concert movies. You get the feeling that it feels much more authentic because it's just a guy and a camera kind of shooting their experience at the show.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

GREENE: That's interesting. So, you guys weren't, like, in the ears of the camera people telling them, you know, move the camera over there. You were just letting them kind of watch the show in their own way and film in their own way.

LOVELACE: Yeah, I mean, we did have earpieces but it was so loud that they were rendered pointless.

(LAUGHTER)

GREENE: I can imagine.

SOUTHERN: Yeah, that was one of our less-successful ideas. It was really important, the feeling of it. You know, if it got a little loose and fell apart at times, that was kind of all the better to us 'cause it would feel like being at the show.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG)

SOUNDSYSTEM: (Singing) Deep down over and over again.

GREENE: Obviously, a big portion of the film is the concert footage and really capturing that big night at the Garden. But then a lot of the film also is this interview that James Murphy, the frontman, did with the music writer and cultural critic Chuck Klostermann. And the moment that really struck me is when the interviewer asks him what the band's biggest failure was. And Murphy finally admits that his biggest failure might be quitting, and he worries whether his quitting is motivated by, you know, by a sense of fear. And I wanted to listen to a little bit of his voice.

(SOUNDBITE OF DOCUMENTARY, "SHUT UP AND PLAY THE HITS")

JAMES MURPHY: I want to look back and be very, very proud of everything that we did. And I feel like right now I'm, with a couple of snafus here and there and, like, I'm very, very, like, I like the way we've handled ourselves. I'm proud. But this quitting stuff, even though I'm like it's the right thing, I wonder if my - me saying, like, I don't want to be a famous person. I don't want to be a famous person 'cause I like riding the subway, I like eating food, I like being a normal person. I like it. I'm 41. I don't think I could adjust to the kind of weird dichotomy. But is that a good enough reason? If you believe in your band and you claim to like music and you claim to like making music for people, is that a good enough reason to quit?

GREENE: I mean, is - I guess there are a few things to ask. I mean, do you guys think that he quit out of fear and is that a good enough reason for a successful band to quit?

LOVELACE: I wouldn't say it was purely fear of failure, but I think that is, you know, one of the things that James said, well, what next for the band if it continued? Would it be - because they were on that cusp of, like, becoming even bigger? Would it be making a much more kind of populist album? Or would it be making something willfully obscure to kind of diminish that audience? You know, I think James felt that LCD was a finite project, and 10 years of good times, and I think for him it was just right. That project's finished now. But I think there's all those doubts and kind of things still resonate after the fact. You know, even speaking to him now, there's that sense of, like, was it the right thing to do?

GREENE: Is this something we should encourage in our entertainers? I mean, I think about - I mean, I was a Def Leppard fan and they're still out touring years later and I love the fact that I can still go see them. But, you know, all the fans of LCD sounds that they're now going to not have that chance. But is this in a way good for music what James Murphy decided to do or not?

LOVELACE: That's a really interesting question because there are bands, like, you just wish had stopped and was, you know, kind of...

SOUTHERN: Kind of (Unintelligible).

LOVELACE: Yeah. But then that's their choice, isn't it? It's kind of there is that thing of, like, there's not many people who know, right, well, as a body of work that's my legacy or that's the thing I've made. I imagine it's very hard for creative people to spot that point.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "LOSING MY EDGE")

SOUNDSYSTEM: (Singing) Without losing my edge, the kids are coming up from behind...

GREENE: You know, one of the songs that they play, "Losing My Edge." I mean, with lyrics: The new kids are coming in. They know everything about music and are running someone out of town.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "LOSING MY EDGE")

SOUNDSYSTEM: (Singing) (unintelligible) here we go, for anybody...

GREENE: Does that capture what James was feeling in a way?

LOVELACE: Yeah, I mean, I think you could say that that song defines LCD, defines James, you know, defines the whole thing really. People interact with, like, music and music history in a much different way now. You can just go into Wikipedia and find everything out about, you know, you can download every song by a band and there's less need to have that kind of acquired knowledge, you know, 'cause everything's just as people's fingertips. And I think that idea that the world is changing and perhaps the way you understood it previously felt more right to you. I think that's something that a lot of people can relate to, I guess.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

GREENE: Dylan Southern and Will Lovelace - they are the co-directors of the new documentary "Shut Up and Play the Hits." The film followed the band LCD Soundsystem in its final days, and the film premieres on July 18th.

SOUNDSYSTEM: This is our last song.

GREENE: Guys, thanks a lot.

LOVELACE: Thank you.

SOUTHERN: Thanks for having us.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG)

SOUNDSYSTEM: (Singing) New York, I love you, but you're bringing me down.

GREENE: And you can watch a clip from the film "Shut Up and Play the Hits" at nprmusic.org. This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm David Greene. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Most Popular