At least James Murphy realizes his unsuitability for the role of frontman. Straw-colored scruff turning grey, body grown stouter, he looks like a roadie who’s seen Detroit too many times and been up nights worrying about the next gig in Pittsburgh. The problem is he sings like one, which bothered me far less on the epochal singles and albums he’s released under the LCD Soundsystem moniker since 2002. Live, though, he changes pitch (when he manages to stay on it, that is), rushes or shouts his way through lines that require some kind of shading, or hurries through the performance. We all know the sensation of being stuck singing a karaoke number whose words we forget while two hundred pairs of eyes watch – that’s the impression Murphy leaves. As an adamantine supporter of Bernard Sumner, I understand I’m open to charges of hypocrisy. But I’ve never said New Order’s strengths blossomed live. Turning his dog into a supporting actor makes poetic sense: from certain angles you can’t tell them apart, and maybe that was the point.
Like an LCD Soundsystem record,Shut Up and Play the Hits, Will Lovelace and Dylan Southern’s documentary about the act’s swan song at Madison Square Garden, flits through time and space, through genres, through modes. It begins with a French bulldog licking a rumpled, hungover Murphy awake the morning after the gig (the dog, by the way, gets as many aw-gee close-ups as collaborator Pat Mahoney) and flashes back to an interview conducted by an absurdly whiskered Chuck Klosterman while interweaving concert footage in which we see Murphy getting drunker and sadder during the marathon four-hour performance while the band’s playing gets more euphoric.
This is the last thing I expected to write: I got weary of the music but wanted more of Klosterman’s interview. He started gaseous and Klosterman-esque, his whiskers and fingers dancing an arabesque in which Murphy fronts a Billy Joel or KISS cover band, but in the last bits he asks a couple of sharp questions which Murphy, the doleful saucer-eyed ironist, couldn’t wriggle out of because the questions addressed his doleful irony. Entranced by the idea of cutting records that hammered his influences into protective mail, Murphy worries whether the Brooklyn collector who at the dawn of his career worried about losing his edge can boast a legacy unsullied by the premature fade. Frankly I was surprised both ways: at Klosterman’s shrewdness and Murphy submitting to the interrogation in the first place. As for the music, it reminded me of my mixed reaction to an otherwise spectacular show I saw in fall ’10: Murphy has no business singing live.