Shut up and Play the Hits documents the final concert of the famed dance-punk band LCD Soundsystem. This rock-umentary has three aims. First and foremost this is a concert flick. Most of the reel just plays the hits, and it plays them LOUD. It captures the mayhem, the non-stop dance-moshing, and the breath-taking musicianship of LCD Soundsystem’s “best-funeral-ever” at Madison Square Garden. And if there is one thing this band has, it is hits: the ululating “North-American scum” (with Arcade Fire on back-up vocals), the “laugh-out-loud dissection of cool” “Losing My Edge”, the heart-breaking “New York, I love you.” Sure, I liked these songs beforehand; hell, I partied to them for years. But these tracks are meant to be played live, with bright lights and bursting energy and the special guests and Murphy’s incredible vocal flourishes.
LCD Soundsystem is sick. They are genius. It’s not something that is easy to pinpoint. First, LCD’s musicians are very talented. This doesn’t strike you from their records, which have a forget-the-window-dressing-and-lets-just-party attitude. Especially taking is the astounding range (vocally and emotionally) of Murphy’s voice in live performance. Second, each song is delightfully different than the last. It part of why it feels like LCD Soundsystem is the only band you need. They know how to mix it up. The music also strikes again and again on that euphoric nerve between rock and dance and keeps the audience in a perpetual dance-mosh tizzy. And the band members are so damn loveable. All of these things combine to make the Gestalt genius of LCD Soundsystem.
The second theme of this flick is “funeral.” Shut Up and Play the Hits is too nostalgic to simply be a concert rediffusion. Thanks to Murphy’s decision to publicize his band’s last waltz, everyone at this concert knows is aware that it is the last of its kind. I half-fidgeted, half-danced through the whole thing on my high phi-centre stool; I wanted to be there, to down in the seething revelry of that panda-costumed crowd. But that desire was nipped painfully in the bud by the knowledge that I can’t be there, that I never will. At times, especially when the lens settles on Murphy as he stares off into the distance with melancholy detachment, Shut Up is a seriously sad movie. It’s a reminder that all good things come to an end. Perhaps it’s also a challenge to face the end of every good thing courageously, head-on, free of self-deception.
Thirdly, this film is a character piece on the impetus behind the life and death of LCD Soundsystem, their down to earth frontman. Between songs, the movie cuts to a sort of exit-interview where Murphy tells the story of himself and his band. Most of interview is his attempt to justify – as much to himself as to the audience – the decision to snuff out LCD Soundsystem’s existence just when it was burning its brightest. Watching him stare at the ceiling, silent and stunned, the morning after his last concert; walk his English boxer; say a few authentically teary-eyed good-byes to friends and even to his music gear, it’s hard not to fall in love. He is a thoughtful, deep-feeling, down-to earth human being. He portrays himself as awkward, but ok with it, as introspective to the point of judging himself for introspection, as too self-aware to don the fake, alien mask of a rockstar day in and day out. Murphy only became famous in his late thirties, and never saw himself as anything but normal. He claims he walked away from the band to re-attain a sense of normalcy, to settle down and have kids, to escape the blinding blaze of the lime-light.
But there is a mysterious paradox to Murphy’s self-portrayal. How can he be so down to earth and so damn cool at the same time? Is he really shirking fame or is he making a all-in gamble on his own immortality? Is he putting an end to a decent band, or giving birth to a legendary one? Behind his I-just-don’t-want-to-end-up-like-the-Rolling-Stones shctick lurks a calculated genius, a fierce will to do something totally unprecedented, something totally unforgettable. In short, LCD Soundsystem, I love you, but I can’t figure you out.