"There are only three ways to end your career as a rocker: overdose, overstay your welcome, or write Spider-Man: The Musical,” jokes satirical political pundit Stephen Colbert at the beginning of Shut Up and Play the Hits. But as LCD Soundsystem proved, there is indeed another way.
In an out-of-the-blue announcement, the Brooklyn dance rock ensemble revealed last year that, at the peak of their career, they would dissolve the band in perhaps the most lavish way possible: by playing one final show at New York’s iconic Madison Square Garden in front of roughly 20,000 of their closest friends.
“If it’s a funeral, let’s have the best funeral ever,” the group stated, and for all intents and purposes, that’s exactly what fans got on April 2, 2011.
Documenting that four-hour-long spectacle resulted in Shut Up and Play the Hits. Helmed by directors Dylan Southern and Will Lovelace, the film captures that final onstage swan song, the post-concert aftermath, and some “what does it all mean” musing by frontman James Murphy courtesy of an interview conducted three weeks before the concert with music journalist and author Chuck Klosterman. Rather than a biography, this is a snapshot in time, and at its heart, Shut Up and Play the Hits is simply an extravagant and beautifully shot concert film.
With an army of cameras constantly on the move, Murphy and his sprawling backing band — at many points over 12 musicians strong — deliver the hits, tackling now-classic post-2000 anthems like “Losing My Edge,” “Dance Yrself Clean” and “All My Friends,” while revamping and reimagining their recorded output. LCD was a much different musical beast live than on record.
A few songs into the film, it’s hard not to get swept up in the emotion of it all. Guest appearances by Reggie Watts, Arcade Fire and perhaps the world’s biggest mirrorball ensure your gaze remains locked on the rolling concert footage. Plus, there’s some choice backstage moments thrown in for good measure.
But while the live footage makes up most of the film, it’s the interlaced narrative of Murphy’s day-after concert hangover that steals the show. With a fly-on-the-wall view of a rock star’s very domestic life, you witness Murphy right after the big shebang, going about mundane tasks like shaving, walking the dog and indulging in his apparent love for coffee. As boring as that may sound, you soon realize this is his new post-LCD reality. Murphy is picking up the pieces throughout his day and starting to cope with the loss.
It culminates in what’s undoubtedly the film’s climax: Murphy standing alone in an empty practice space — a realization that reduces him to a shaking mess of tears. It’s a profoundly touching private moment. Murphy soon pulls himself together, gets in a cab, and heads home alone.
Unfortunately, as emotional as the film gets, the intertwined footage of Klosterman interviewing Murphy proves to be the film’s weakest link, as Klosterman’s personality can be grating if you’re not into over-intellectualizing your rock ’n’ roll. While the conversation is mostly used as a transitional device to set up certain key tracks, it also supplies the LCD backstory, which comes out sketchy at best.
The interview also sees Murphy touching on the defining failure of LCD Soundsystem, and while he has a hard time answering that question so soon, it might just be the final concert and the film itself. It’s been barely over a year since the group’s big farewell, but already Murphy is hinting at resurrecting the band. While that would be great news for fans, a reunion so soon would strip away much of the film’s emotional impact, making LCD Soundsystem’s celebratory funeral all a bit premature, exaggerated or, at worst, a sham.