I’ve been a fan of James Murphy’s LCD Soundsystem for years now, maybe just shy of the release of their 2007 opus “Sound of Silver”. They’ve gone from being simply a band I like to my favourite band to ever exist. From their hugely danceable and glorious self titled debut, to the aforementioned Sound of Silver to their stunning send off album This Is Happening, they provided their fans with a truly consistent and varied trilogy of albums that had a lot of party tracks with a few emotional songs thrown in to boot.
When my life was going through a particular rough patch (and I’m talking incredibly rough patch), their song “Us v Them” was a song that helped me see these times through. It’s moment of joyous explosion at 3:15 is something of beauty that made me smile every time I heard it. It’s one of my favourite musical moments by an absolute mile.
Simply put, LCD Soundsystem were one of the most important bands I ever listened to and one that has remained close to me after several musical taste transitions.
When news broke that This is Happening was to be their final album, I was gutted. Why would a band at their absolute musical peak break up? Afterall, their music was transitioning from simply being ‘dance’ music to something with a deep emotional core. Thankfully, I saw them on that final set of gigs when they played the O2 academy in Leeds back in 2010. In what was, without a shadow of a doubt, the best gig I’ve ever attended, they showed that whilst their albums were stellar, their live performances were beyond most (if not all) of their contemporaries. It therefore made sense that the band went out with a bang and the biggest gig they ever staged; a 3 hour and 41 minute au revoir at a sold out Madison Square Garden.
This gig, the build up and aftermath are documented in “Shut Up and Play the Hits“, a film that takes fans of LCD on one hell of an emotional rollercoaster. Documenting the band’s lead singer James Murphy life over a period of 48 hours (before, during and after the band’s final show), you get a rare insight into the mostly enigmatic lead singer’s life and in contrast to his music, it’s oddly normal and a little mundane. He walks his dog, gets a cup of coffee and gets a taxi…and nobody seems to recognise him. This anonymity is something he yearns for in the interview that’s interspersed within scenes of Murphy before/after the gig and clips of the gig itself. Fame isn’t something that Murphy wants as it seems to only be a burden to him.
Some of the more visually spectacular moments of the entire film involve clips of crowd members at the gig, in particular the one person who showed the degrees to which this band have touched some it’s fans. The 16 year old LCD Soundsystem fan who is caught twice within the film bawling his eyes out was a moment within the screening I attended where the audience seemed to be divided; one half saw it as hilarious that this kid loved this band so much that he weeped inconsolably whilst the other half saw it as a perfect example of what the band meant to someone. After all, this was their final gig, if you saw your favourite band perform their final ever show, surely you wouldn’t be remiss of a few tears or a moment of sadness?
Another moment of crowd induced goodness (besides a GREAT cameo with a crowd surfing Aziz Ansari) is the binary opposite of the crying fan; it was the couple gleefully dancing together without a care in the world. It showed what an LCD Soundsystem show should be about which is having fun. Yes, there’s going to be sad emotional moments, but what the band really represent live is having fun and losing your inhibitions.
The last half an hour or so of the film gets pretty deep. Whilst the band’s break up was amicable, reality begins to sink in and you can see a genuine sense of loss and regret in James Murphy’s eyes. He even expresses that his biggest regret was splitting the group when they were still hugely popular and still making great music. You can see this in one of the film’s great moments where Murphy visits the band’s warehouse, surrounded by equipment, alone. Pictures of the band from the earliest moments to the present day are interspersed with this moment as Murphy cries. It’s a tough scene to view as the realisation begins to sink in to him and the viewing audience that LCD Soundsystem are no more. Maybe it won’t mean as much to non-fans watching, but I found it a bit of a difficult scene to get through, same goes for the gut wrenching performance of Someone Great.
There are a lot of great concert films out there, but the best (apart from the all-concert Stop Making No Sense) don’t tend to focus on the gig itself. Gimme Shelter has several great performances throughout the film but the story of the concert and the tragedy that ensued is as captivating as the music if not more. Dave Chappelle’s Block Party is mainly brilliant because of the journey Dave goes on to put on the show and inviting people. Shut Up and Play the Hits features snippets and songs from the MSG show shot with some high quality cameras as it looks phenomenal, but it’s the footage before/after the show that make the film so memorable. Sure, it could have done without the somewhat pretentious interview (which features about 95% Chuck Klosterman and 5% James Murphy), but in the grand scheme of things, that’s only really a small critique.
Shut Up and Play the Hits is out on DVD/Blu-Ray on 8 October 2012. A further incentive to buy it is the bonus feature of having the ENTIRE NEAR FOUR HOUR gig as a DVD extra. Trust me when I tell you that it’s one of the great farewell gigs you’ll ever see; there’s Arcade Fire, Reggie Watts, Shit Robot, 45:33 playing in it’s entirety and the Twin Peaks opening theme.