At the height of their musical career, ‘dance-punk’ group LCD Soundsystem disbanded. But not before playing one last show on the 2nd April 2011 at New York’s Madison Square Garden. Shut Up and Play the Hits follows frontman James Murphy during the 48 hours surrounding that pivotal performance.
Murphy was an unlikely rock star from the very beginning. His band were not widely recognised until he was over the age of thirty, and then enjoyed a subtle and steady, yet undoubtedly influential success. A god amongst hipsters for the last ten years or so, we see that it is still his dog that garners more attention than Murphy himself when strolling around the streets close to his apartment. In many ways, the calm and controlled ending of his band is perfectly in-keeping with Murphy’s character, but on the other hand it simply seems to make no sense.
At times, Shut Up and Play the Hits appears to be a film determined to get to the bottom of this conundrum, quizzing Murphy and following his every move on the day following the concert. Yet, often, it seems more content to bask in sense of occasion surrounding the band’s farewell concert which was, evidently, quite remarkable. It’s much more than a simple concert film, although it is not quite a straightforward music documentary either. Directors Dylan Southern and Will Lovelace describe the project as “more of a hybrid,” having begun planning the film prior to the announcement of the final performance, yet it is certainly something which features heavily within the final cut. Having previously directed Blur-based documentary, No Distance Left To Run, they also admit to being intrigued by the dissolution of a band who hadn’t let rock’n’roll get the better of them – who still had good relationships and were making great records.
The structure of the film is as carefully composed at the Murphy’s decision to quit, interspersing footage from the concert with scenes of him going about his routine in the day after the night before, as well as snippets from an interview with (world’s most annoying) journalist, Chuck Klosterman. Perhaps this is due to the fact that the ever-in-control frontman is also a producer on the project. For those who aren’t part of LCD Soundsystem’s dedicated fan-base, it is the off-stage fillers that are likely to prove most compelling, if not a little choreographed at times.
We see a suitably hungover Murphy make numerous cups of coffee as he stops by his eerily empty office, as well as a warehouse full of no longer needed equipment, and pays a visit to still-busy British manager Keith Wood. “This is weird, but I’ve got to go,” Wood says, having already turned down Murphy’s offer of dinner, seemingly worried that things are about to get a tad too nostalgic for his liking.
While these moments sometimes feel slightly staged – does Murphy always lean his head pensively against the window of every taxi cab he rides? – they certainly capture something of the self-conscious nature of the musician. If you weren’t sure that ending LCD Soundsystem was the best idea in the world, then Murphy is even less convinced. He constantly questions the decision, especially when pressed by Klosterman to name the singular failure that might eventually define him in years to come.
Yet aside from the sense of staging, there’s still a degree of honesty to be found on Shut Up & Play the Hits. “I blink again and I’m 50,” states Murphy, using his age as one justification for the decision to hit the kill switch on his band. He wants to have a family; he doesn’t want to inadvertently acquire a celebrity status. It’s an unusual insight into the rationale behind a band’s progression, and in some ways a refreshing change from the ‘rise and fall’ formula that so often provides the narrative for such documentaries.
The filming of the Madison Square Gardens gig itself is simply superb. Shut Up and Play the Hits largely avoids the crane shots and camera panning which risk making even the most powerful performances look like something which took place at T4 On The Beach. In its place, we have glimpses of the band shot from between amps, close-ups of musicians as they bounce off each other on stage, and a much better sense of the electric energy buzzing around the audience. Crying, dancing, hugging fans offer some idea of what it might have been like to be part of this seminal event in LCD Soundsystem’s history, whilst post-gig through-the-window shots of a cosy bistro dinner offer a not altogether unpleasant foreshadowing of what the future might hold for those on stage. If you never experienced this band live, then Shut Up and Play the Hits is perhaps as close to the real thing as you are ever likely to encounter since Murphy decided to hang up his mic.
Shut Up and Play the Hits is in cinemas now. You can also catch the concert performance screened in full on one night only at fabric – details here: http://www.fabriclondon.com/blog/view/experience-the-final-lcd-soundsystem-concert-screened-in-room-one
The DVD, out on 8th October, and other exclusive items can be pre-ordered from www.shutupandplaythehits.com. Meanwhile, you can check out the trailer below and read our interview with the film’s directors here.