On April 2 nd 2011, alternative electro-punk (sort of) band LCD Soundsystem called time on their career with an epic, four hour concert at Madison Square Gardens in their hometown of New York. Half celebration, half funeral, the concert was recorded for posterity by eleven cameras and directed by Will Lovelace and Dylan Southern (helmers of the excellent documentary of BritPop band Blur, No Distance Left to Run). Lovelace and Southern also followed LCD frontman James Murphy for the forty eight hours surrounding the gig. And so we have Shut Up and Play the Hits, a somewhat sweet, if confused goodbye to one of the better bands to emerge in the twenty-first century.
Shut Up and Play the Hits seems to be two films at once. One half is a tightly constructed and brilliantly photographed concert film, showing LCD Soundsystem in their arguable prime. The other half is a bizarre, otherworldly document of James Murphy structured around an interview that genuinely happened, but has now been recreated for the purposes of filming.
We watch Murphy wake up after the show and interact with perhaps the cutest dog ever seen. That’s how it starts. We see him make coffee. We see him go to look at LCD’s gear before it is all sold off. We see him say goodbye to his manager. But it all appears to be staged. Strange. Stranger still is that in the world of LCD Soundsystem, this doesn’t seem strange at all. They have always been a band that hover over the line between sincere and ironic, occasionally tipping a toe onto either side, and so when we see LCD perform we receive perhaps the most emotionally charged moments of Murphy’s goodbye. When we see Murphy saying goodbye to his previous life and various components of it we are kept at a distance. It is an interesting gambit, and it’s one that pays off over and over again.
Two completely different moods envelope the film, and the two moods seem to be battling inside Murphy’s head. At one point the interviewer asks him what LCD’s biggest failure has been. Murphy eventually admits that the answer could well be the break up itself. What looked like just another concert film becomes a portrait of an artist who knows that the best decision is to end something, regardless of whether he wants it to end or not. The musical performances are incendiary – as evidenced on the DVD, which comes packaged with the entire four hour concert spread across two discs – but it is the (not completely) candid moments with Murphy that truly delight. Stilted and bizarre? Yes. Fascinating? Definitely.
The mind behind a stellar band is an entertaining one to unravel, but whilst fans of LCD will be utterly enthralled, those unfamiliar with the band will be left wondering what all the fuss was about. For people who know what all the fuss was about this is a great document of a specific thing at a specific time, and enables all of us to point at LCD Soundsystem and exclaim, “I was there!”
Adam has awarded Shut Up and Play the Hits three Torches of Truth.