I look forward to the day when I can tell my hypothetical kid that I saw LCD Soundsystem at Madison Square Garden, even though he/she will probably respond with, “You’re embarrassing me.” Pop music is more fractured than ever, so the MSG show is the closest thing we’ll have to a macro-scale cultural experience. Like other concert films of similar ambition – Stop Making Sense, The Last Waltz, and Shine a Light come immediately to mind – Shut Up and Play the Hits gives the impression we’re in the thick of it with the musicians. It is terrific fun, with the right note of bittersweet melancholy.
During the opening credits, directors Will Lovelace and Dylan Southern show footage of the stage being taken apart. Gear is put away, light rigs are disassembled, and cords are wrapped tight. This is the end of LCD Soundsystem at its most unceremonious, but the footage is necessary so we can properly grasp what James Murphy and his band-mates accomplished. The film includes 11 songs from the long concert, sticking mostly to Sound of Silver and LCD’s self-titled album.
Lovelace and Southern also show moments before the concert, as well as its aftermath. We watch as James Murphy nurses a hang-over and takes his adorable French bull-dog for a walk. Murphy also sits down for an interview with Chuck Klosterman, who has a way of asking a ridiculous question and getting his subject to open up anyway. When we hear Murphy’s answers as we watch him on the Sunday after, the directors create a quasi-inner monologue.
The concert footage is stirring because it integrates the band with the audience. The crowd swells and cheers as Murphy works the stage. Sometimes he hangs back as if he’s just another band member, and sometimes he takes command of the Garden with a single gesture. Cameras pan around the Garden with confidence; in one of many memorable shots, the camera swoops from one side of the stage to the other, giving an intriguing panorama. Obviously, Shut Up and Play the Hits sounds terrific. Highlights are when members of Arcade Fire and a horn section guest on “North American Scum” and LCD Soundsystem build Harry Nillson’s “Jump into the Fire” into a propulsive dance-punk anthem. Even someone unfamiliar with the band would conclude that they fucking rock.
What makes the documentary unique and moving is the lengths it goes to contextualize Murphy. It is a little weird to watch him live a normal life; the only time a stranger interacts with him is when they notice his dog. None of us can imagine, really, what it’s like to be Murphy on the following morning, although the intimacy of those sequences is eerie. Still, it’s the Klosterman interview that’s the most revealing. He pushes Murphy, using an unlikely basketball analogy to ask Murphy what he thinks is his defining failure. Klosterman gets a satisfying answer, and the impression is that this is the first time Murphy articulates these feelings aloud.
Everyone seems to take in LCD Soundsystem in a unique way. He gives music nerds a chance to geek out, and talk about highly personal, capitol letter Experiences. For me, at least, there is no band I listen to more, or with more devotion. LCD Soundsystem has been the soundtrack to my workday, my break-ups, my drunken nights, and my walks through Central Park. Everyone has trouble grasping why, exactly, the band broke up. And Murphy himself wonders whether the Madison Square Garden concert ended on a note that’s high enough. Shut Up and Play the Hits conclusively halts any doubt that he did.