I don’t remember when I first heard LCD Soundsystem. Vague apathy toward Daft Punk Is Playing At My House is probably the first memory I have of the band. More to the point, I don’t remember exactly when I first heard Sound Of Silver, but in the months that followed I distinctly remember being unable to put the record down. It started with the shifting crackling beats of album opener Get Innocuous. James Murphy’s synthesised vocal swirl over the opening drum sequence as it shifted into a layered driving beat specifically designed for late night consumption. Then after about fifteen genuinely interesting opening minutes, Someone Great. One repetitive note. A siren through a haze followed by clicks and whirls and pulses suddenly forming a unit of living breathing sound. The skies opened and out poured electric rain, car tyres splashing through puddles of neon. James Murphy started to sing – a cryptic tale of the purest heartache. What a song. What a fucking brilliant album.
Now I must confess I’m a one album man at the best of times. Once the claws are in, I can listen to the same album for months on end and so, Sound Of Silver came to be my definition of the band. Yes I knew the obligatory numbers from their debut. But even after the release of their third and final album This Is Happening, I was slow on the uptake. I didn’t need anymore. Until I heard about Shut Up And Play The Hits. And it’s tagline – If it’s a funeral… let’s have the best funeral ever. For a band who produced one of my favourite albums, I knew little about them and unfortunately lacked the experience of seeing them live. Obviously I still haven’t seen the band, but SUAPTH has gone a long way toward remedying these inconsistencies.
Shot during their final concert at Madison Square Garden the film documents the band’s last hours playing together under the LCD moniker, whilst throwing in the prelude to their arrival onstage and the twenty four or so subsequent hours in the show’s aftermath. The effect of so much material is that the film flies by, thanks in part to some brilliant editing. Having seen the film on it’s initial one night September release, I was initially blown away and even watching again the other afternoon it still feels fresh and this is probably due to the dense amount of material comprised largely of raucous concert footage, as well as backstage footage before and during the gig, various interviews with James Murphy and a healthy dose of the ever visually enchanting New York City. Part of the beauty of SUAPTH is that it plays as both concert film and introspective documentary. The live footage is stunning, as Southern and Lovelace employ a number of shooting styles which blend traditional static wide shots, with handheld close-ups of the band and various unorthodox angles of an expectant crowd. During the post screening Q+A back in September, the directors stressed the tiny budget they had to work with, which in truth suggests the skill of the pair in handling their subject as the film never looks cheap.
Yet the concert footage is only half the story. Much of the depth in SUAPTH is found in the filmmakers examination of Murphy. The film is as much about him as it is the band’s final act. As with any documentary, there is usually some sort of stand out moment – an epiphany of sorts. This film is no different and predictably it’s epiphany revolves around an emotional Murphy as he arrives for the final time at the warehouse containing the band’s equipment. It sounds contrived but it shouldn’t. In a final segment of interview in which Murphy is asked to contemplate the band’s singular failure by which they may come to be defined, he is forced to concede that in the act of quitting, his single failure may simply be self-consciousness – a fear of failure itself. In the next frame he is alone with his band’s equipment. There is no sound save for the buzz of a light and Murphy gently humming to himself as he ponders the end. Various close-ups of pedals and keys and snapshots of the last decade give way to an evocative shot of the band’s equipment lined up against a concrete wall, Murphy with his back to the camera standing all alone beside a clutch of guitars. Then he quietly breaks down for a moment. The scene is exquisitely orchestrated as it moves from a brief restaurant segue into closer New York I Love You, and under the softly focused glittering of Manhattan’s bright lights, we cruise through the city with Murphy as the focus pulls from the skyline to clearly reveal his face. It’s not regret but a palpable sense of uncertainty etched across this visual realisation which makes it quietly wonderful as opposed to crudely cliché. For all intents and purposes Murphy is a man slipping out of his dream and back into reality.
If you’re a fan of LCD Soundsystem and have somehow inexplicably failed to see this yet, then just buy a copy already. To anyone who simply likes a good old-fashioned concert film or documentary, spare this movie a couple of hours. Not only is it musically entertaining but as a documentary entry, it is a stirring celebration of success, insecurity, endings and new beginnings.