Director(s): Dylan Southern and Will Lovelace
Starring: James Murphy, Chuck Klosterman, Nancy Whang, Pat Mahoney, Gunnar Bjerk, Al Doyle, Gavin Russom, Keith Wood.
Release Date: Out now
About a decade ago, a middle-aged music enthusiast named James Murphy formed the dance-punk act LCD Soundsystem. In 2011, an even more middle-aged Murphy played his last ever live show in front of thousands of adoring fans at Madison Square Garden. After three dearly loved albums with a miniature legacy in tow, Murphy decided to call it quits. This gig was his glorious controlled demolition of LCD Soundsystem.
The name LCD Soundsystem may mean very little to some, but to those who fell in love with Murphy’s infectious musical output and fawned over the transformation of this project into a rapturous live-act, it means a great deal indeed. It is for these people that Shut Up and Play the Hits exists, a chronicle of that gig and a hazy portrait of Murphy himself.
The documentary is divided between footage of the performance, snippets of backstage chatter and scenes of Murphy the morning after. These scenes range from the dull to the charming and from the humorous to the genuinely affecting. However, it is his interview with writer Chuck Klosterman that provides the film with its narrative arc and more significantly, its most illuminating and interesting moments. These flashes of insight do render the other footage a tad banal by comparison. Klosterman perhaps has more to say in his appraisal of the band’s career than Murphy himself does. Nonetheless, in his oblique responses, Murphy does reveal glimpses of his own character, glimpses that, coupled with his on-stage persona, demonstrate adequately what a captivating performer Murphy is.
And so to the performance itself. With the sound mixed by Murphy to give razor sharp clarity and intimate camerawork capturing every on-stage flutter and shuffle, Shut Up and Play the Hits pushes the scale of the audience to the background and thrusts the scale of the show to the foreground. Synth-driven tracks bounce with giddy zeal, punkier tracks sear with real vigour, the audience responds in kind with frantic dancing. Young couples can be seen swinging in each other’s arms as Murphy yelps, croons and smiles knowingly. A rotating cast of musicians and guests adds to the celebratory atmosphere. Rather than a funeral bow-out, the crowd is treated to an ecstatic blow-out, until the closer ‘New York I love You’ ends things on a deeply sentimental and bittersweet note.
A film of this nature can leave you feeling either of two ways, utterly indifferent or desperate to have been there. You are more than entitled to shrug your shoulders as the curtains fall, but for some there will be genuine satisfaction.
In a Nutshell: Not for the uninitiated. This is a parting treat for LCD Soundsystem fans.