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SXSW: The End of LCD Soundsystem

AUSTIN – This year, I’m doing my best to hit as many of the music documentaries as possible. With films on Bob Marley, Ginger Baker, hip-hop and the L.A. riots and the Sunset Strip music scene, there are just too many intriguing ones not to.

Saturday night offered up the one I’d maybe been most excited about: Shut Up and Play the Hits. The film is a Last Waltz-esque look at LCD Soundsystem’s final concert at Madison Square Garden. For those in need of a quick LCD primer, the New York dance band released three albums, culminating with 2010’s critically acclaimed This Is Happening. Then, in a move that only Barry Sanders would understand, the band’s leader, James Murphy, announced that LCD was calling it quits after one final gig.

Shut Up and Play the Hits follows Murphy just before that final show and during the day after as he starts to come to terms with the idea that it’s all over. (In between, we get lots of footage of the actual concert. Kudos to co-directors Dylan Southern and Will Lovelace for capturing the event in brilliant HD and letting complete songs play out.) We see him wake up, still wearing his tuxedo shirt from the night before. He makes coffee and takes his dog for a walk before hopping on the subway. Part of his thinking in ending the band is going out on top. But also part of the mix is a desire to be able to live like everyone else. From what we see in the film, it looks as if it’s mission accomplished on both fronts.

But there’s a third element to Murphy’s decision. Most of the talking he does comes from an interview he did with Chuck Klosterman close to that final show. And while Murphy doesn’t have quite the ego to come out and say it, the idea he leaves you with is that, at 41, he feels like he’s got lots of other great things to do in his life. They just might not necessarily be in music.

Shut Up and Play the Hits screened in the space that for years was occupied by a Spaghetti Warehouse.  It’s been converted into a dance-club setup with multicolored LED lights surrounding the room. And it’s also got the stacks and stacks of speakers you’d find in a dance club, making this the first movie I’ve ever been to during which I really wished I had earplugs. (In fairness, LCD’s music isn’t something you light a candle and listen to.)

Directors Southern and Lovelace said after the film that they were working on a four-hour cut that included all of the concert with a plan to show it at dance clubs. If you’re a fan, I’d suggest you see it. Because unlike, say, the Eagles or Van Halen, LCD Soundsystem doesn’t sound like a band that’s going to have a hard time calling it a career.