April 2, 2011. Madison Square Garden. James Murphy, the 41-year-old frontman of the synth-disco-pop-rock-uncategorizeable band LCD Soundsystem plays his final show to a sold-out stadium crowd.
That’s pretty epic.
Yet much of Shut Up and Play the Hits, the documentary about the 48 hours before, during, and after LCD’s final concert (directed by Will Lovelace and Dylan Southern) focuses on Murphy’s highly un-rock star behavior.
We see scenes of Murphy shaving, feeding his dog, and walking around an empty office intercut with footage from the final MSQ show. The whole point is that the guy pouring dog food into a bowl had tens of thousands of people screaming and crying not twelve hours earlier—and that is why Murphy felt the need to put an end to LCD.
In a 2011 interview on The Colbert Report, Murphy told Stephen Colbert that he was ending his band because it was getting “embarrassing.” Murphy was referring to his age, and in the documentary he goes on to explain that any time he and the band would go on tour, his face would physically age several years after only a period of months. Murphy was just tired. It’s evident in the scenes showing the morning after the concert (he’s very hungover then too), but no one would ever know that watching the concert footage that makes up nearly 2/3 of Shut Up and Play the Hits.
At around 90 minutes, Hits only shows a fraction of LCD’s final set, which lasted about four hours. Murphy and the gang played every song from their three LPs and had to take a few intermissions to get through all of it. The film nicely weaves the chosen songs into the storyline—when someone mentions a track in conversation, we start to hear the intro rise and are suddenly thrust into the Garden on that fateful night. Most of these songs are shown in their entirety (such as the group’s cornerstone “All My Friends”), yet the generation-defying “Losing My Edge” is cut short, and crowd favorite “Daft Punk is Playing at My House” is left out entirely. Luckily, Murphy is working on his own DVD full-length version of the concert in all its four-hour glory. Murphy was also involved in mixing the sound for the film’s music scenes, which do sound better than any other concert movie. It is like watching a live album.
Lovelace and Southern have stated that they were not trying to make an “Introduction to LCD Soundsystem” movie. It offers very little insight into the band’s background, Murphy’s upbringing, favorite memories, etc. Instead, it is a psychological profile of James Murphy’s most boring moments intercut with some really terrific concert footage. The directors said that they specifically sought camera operators with film experience rather than concert experience. One of the chosen cameramen: Spike Jonze, director of Where the Wild Things Are and Being John Malkovich.
The title comes from a moment in the concert when Murphy brings on members of Arcade Fire to help him sing “North American Scum.” As Murphy rambles about a time the two massive indie acts toured together, Arcade Fire frontman Win Butler cuts him off and shouts, “Shut up and play the hits!” That’s the essence of the movie. Murphy thinks that no one cares what he has to say—they just like his music.
Shut Up and Play the Hits does not portray its rock-star subject as any sort of extraordinary person. He’s just a regular dude who made a few cool albums. While we see the banality of his daily life, we also get a top-quality concert movie—just not quite enough of each. In the end, my friend sitting next to me in the theater said, “I was at that concert, and that movie was awesome.” B+