James Murphy didn’t direct Shut Up And Play The Hits, the documentary about the last concert performed by his band, LCD Soundsystem, at Madison Square Garden in 2011. But the film is a product of his magpie record-collector’s aesthetic. The idea to throw a big farewell bash with friends (including Arcade Fire and comedian-musician Reggie Watts) is cribbed from The Last Waltz. The film’s elegiac, end-of-an-era tone comes from Woodstock. The framing device for Shut Up And Play The Hits—the ecstatic performance footage is cut with morning-after scenes of a pensive, bored-looking Murphy struggling to come to terms with what he’s just done—is reminiscent of Gimme Shelter. The obvious difference is that there’s a lot less at stake in Shut Up And Play The Hits: Nobody died at LCD Soundsystem’s final show, apart from the group identity Murphy created a decade earlier.
During an extended interview with culture critic Chuck Klosterman that acts as the film’s through-line, Murphy insists he’s happy to have ended LCD Soundsystem on his own terms, but filmmakers Dylan Southern and Will Lovelace underline his lingering sense of regret about closing up shop right as the group seemed to be peaking creatively and commercially. Whenever Shut Up threatens to become too celebratory during the concert sequences—the band’s rousing, get-your-ass-out-of-your-seat performances belie the fact that the end is near—the film cuts back to Murphy, lounging around his apartment, at an apparent loss for what to do next with his life. Finally, when Murphy breaks down near the movie’s end at the sight of LCD’s rented studio equipment in a lonely storage room, this anguish goes from being Shut Up’s emotional counter-melody to its chief hook.
It’s a curious choice of focus that doesn’t always play to the film’s advantage. After all, LCD Soundsystem started out as a Murphy solo project, and essentially remained that way in the studio. Murphy simply retired a moniker, not his musical career. Fans still mourned the loss of a great live band, but it might have been preferable for Southern and Lovelace to treat Shut Up more like an Irish wake than a funeral. Because when he isn’t moping offstage, Murphy is one hell of a frontman, and LCD Soundsystem is a deliriously exciting concert act. The true magnitude of this band no longer existing is felt most strongly in these moments, when Shut Up is at its most uplifting and danceable. It’s a party Shut Up And Play The Hits decides to leave far too often.
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