Just over a year ago, LCD Soundsystem announced that the group was effectively breaking up, and that their final performance would be at New York’s fabled Madison Square Garden. The announcement came as somewhat of a surprise. Spearheaded by James Murphy, LCD Soundsystem gained notoriety for their electronic-based dance-rock that continually grew in its audience appeal. Indeed, their final album (2010’s This is Happening) cracked Billboard’s top ten, outperforming both of the band’s previous efforts. But you have to respect a group / artist that knows when to fold ‘em. LCD’s breakup avoided the rock and roll cliches that usually splinter successful acts: substance abuse, legal troubles, overzealous spending, creative differences… More than anything else, LCD’s breakup appears to have been facilitated by Murphy’s desire to pursue other projects and life paths.
In the lead up to LCD Soundsystem’s final show, directors Dylan Southern and Will Lovelace decided to document the band’s final days as well as the show itself. Distributed by our good friends at Oscilloscope, Shut Up and Play the Hits debuted at Sundance in January, and received a one-night only limited release on July 18th.
Shut Up and Play the Hits is primarily a concert film, though it is intercut with footage from James Murphy’s life leading up to and directly following the Madison Square Garden show. Admittedly, some of these segments seem staged rather than straightforwardly documentarian. But what gives the film it’s true framework is an interview with Chuck Klosterman, which threads throughout the film and provides its loose sense of narrative structure.
Yes, it’s a movie about LCD’s grand final curtain performance. But the film inadvertantly ends up being about so much more: friendship, middle age, embracing an uncertain future with equal parts conviction and trepidation. By virtue of Klosterman’s interview, we also get a greater insight into James Murphy’s art. The interview smartly avoids (and indeed, pokes fun at) the superficiality of questions such as “What is this song about?” Yet through Murphy’s reflections on LCD’s brief career and the possible paths that now lay before him, we do get a sense of his approach to art and music that sheds light on the brief body of work that LCD leaves as its legacy.
Beyond that, Shut Up and Play the Hits overwhelmingly succeeds as a concert film. While it’s cliched to draw comparisons to such classics as Stop Making Sense and Ziggy Stardust: The Motion Picture, Shut Up and Play the Hits is truly worthy of their company. Visually, the digitally shot and exhibited film captures the liveness of the event and most importantly, the energy exchange between audience and stage. And while the audio hinges greatly on the given theater’s technological capacity, I was taken aback by the sound quality. Particularly for those of us who never experienced an LCD Soundsystem show, the film’s execution and exhibition did a fantastic job of providing as close a simulacrum as we’ll ever have. In fact, both my friend and I left the theater expressing our regret for not having attempted to see the MSG show. And that I think speaks to the film’s effectiveness at framing and presenting the event.
In a move no doubt intended to spur hype, Shut Up and Play the Hits played in select theaters for one night only on July 18. At least for now, if you missed it, you missed it. Release to home video and streaming services will surely follow. It’s also worth noting that the performance itself stretched for nearly four hours, probably a quarter of which made it into the film (and this explains some glaring omissions in the film’s soundtrack). This of course makes Shut Up and Play the Hits ripe for a deluxe dvd/blu-ray/cd set when it hits retail, and suckers like me will buy it.