[Review] – Shut Up And Play The Hits

15 Sep

Title: Shut Up and Play the Hits
Year: 2012
Directors: Dylan Southern and Will Lovelace
Starring: James Murphy, Nancy Whang, Tyler Pope, Pat Mahoney, Gavin Russom, Al Doyle, Chuck Klosterman
MPAA Rating: Not rated
Runtime: 108 min
IMDb Rating: 6.4
Rotten Tomatoes: 87%
Metacritic: 72

I was a huge, huge fan of LCD Soundsystem, the New York-based dance-punk band from the genius that is James Murphy. I have their entire discography on my iPod, and their third and final album, 2010’s ‘This Is Happening’, was one of the musical highlights of that year for me. So you’d be correct to assume that I was super sad when, in February of 2011, the band posted a statement on their website that said they’d be calling it quits, disbanding after a farewell concert to take place at Madison Square Garden that April. By all accounts that was the most epic farewell show one could hope for, clocking in at almost four hours, one of those concerts you seriously wish you could have been present at.

Well, now you can, sort of. Shut Up and Play the Hits is the truly immersive and incredible documentary film that premiered at Sundance and follows Mr. Murphy during an awesome 48-hour period, chronicling what went down in the hours before the show, during that epic gig as well as in the morning after. Sure, nothing would ever beat actually being at the show, but here you get a nice look at what it was like, including seeing Aziz Ansari crowd-surfing, plus you get it all intertwined with an interview between Mr. Murphy and Chuck Klosterman, arguably the most recognized (and, to me, best) pop culture writer working today.

If you’re a fan like me, then this film will work absolute wonders for you; if you’re not, if you haven’t even heard of the band, then it will probably still work because of how it explores fame and creative minds. Just seeing the fans dancing like crazy is tremendous, as a baker’s dozen cameras were filming this epic final concert, you see the fans at the verge of tears when James Murphy says “this is our last song”, because they know that he means that quite literally this time around. It’s terrific seeing how this man, who never once wanted to be anything like a modern rockstar, is still worshipped as such by so many music-loving individuals.

Now, when I say James Murphy is worshipped as a rockstar even though he doesn’t want to I don’t mean that he sold out, whatever that may mean by now. You can say that any band that can fill Madison Square Garden can’t really claim any indie cred whatsoever, but that’s just not true. This is a man who understood his business and who always did it under his own rules, co-founding DFA Records to release his music and that of those he liked, and never compromising a single step of his band’s decade-long journey. Yes, he could fill one of the world’s most iconic stages with people going absolutely crazy for a long time, but he never compromised, and you just need to take a look at the non-concert parts of this film to realize that.

Having Chuck Klosterman dictate those parts is obviously a huge part of why they work so well. Every one of these concert docs needs something like this, an element outside of the actual music footage that really sets it apart, and I thought the interview on display here worked just tremendously well. Mr. Klosterman is a guy that’s as informed as they come about pop culture, he just knows his stuff and it’s tremendously obvious he knows his LCD Soundsystem. Not only that, though, but Mr. Klosterman knows how to dig deep not just into the music but into the man, and in the conversation we get a peek into we see how Mr. Murphy not always came to grips with this notion of stardom that he had been appointed with.

Of course a big part as to why he managed to fill out MSG was the fact that this was it, the final show ever; it’s basic economics, supply and demand, this was the last of the supply, so of course the demand would be off the charts. As far as how the concert’s shot, directors Dylan Southern and Will Lovelace strike a really nice balance, maintaining this nice personal vibe but not getting as hugely intimate as, say, Jonathan Demme did in Neil Young Journeys earlier this year.

It’s still personal because it doesn’t try and make it seem like this huge show (even though it was) but is instead focussed on little details amongst the crowd and, especially, focussed in just letting the music do the talking. Even when the film does go for a larger scope, such as when you see the overheard shots of this massive crowd just jumping like crazy to the beat, it feels kind of intimate because you just know that most of these guys feel genuine love towards this band and this is their way of showing it.

This is undeniably great music, we get about a dozen songs shown here of the 29 that were actually played on that night, you get to see Reggie Watts accompanying Mr. Murphy on one song, and some of the members of Arcade Fire on another. It was one big celebratory party from a band that really was at the peak of their powers right then. You might be of the notion that there’s nothing quite like retiring while you’re at the top of your game, so that people remember you like that. Mr. Murphy, a shy man by all accounts, would make it seem as though he believes in that too, but when Mr. Klosterman asks him about any failures as an artist he’s had, he does admit that maybe, in a while, he might regret calling it quits.

That’s why I liked those interviews so much. In a way you get the sense that Mr. Klosterman says more than Mr. Murphy, but that’s just because Mr. Murphy is, though very likable, a quiet man, but moments of introspection like that are well worth it. As a fan who couldn’t be there that night, Shut Up and Play the Hits serves as a more than fitting way to remember the greatness of LCD Soundsystem, showcasing how they ruled the stage on their final show and, of course, the fantastic emotional impact they had on so many people.

Grade: A-


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