Analysing “Shut Up And Play The Hits”, the documentary about (and funeral of) LCD Soundsystem

The keys to the vital testament (and goodbye concert) of James Murphy . No spoilers!

The endearing documentary “Shut Up And Play The Hits”, about LCD Soundsystem's final concert, has just been released on DVD and Blu-Ray. An analysis.

2nd April, 2011. It could be any randomly chosen date, but it's much more than that. It's a symbolic evening. That night a funeral is taking place, though not just any (the tears shed by the audience, absolutely logical, were the measure of the importance of the event). What happened was that LCD Soundsystem were saying goodbye (forever?) at Madison Square Garden in New York, with a historic, three-and-a-half-hour concert. As a proper ending (and even so, it still remains to be seen if it wasn't actually a “see you later”), that final, devastating gig turned out to be so important (almost vital, we'd say), that someone simply had to film both what so many thousands of people witnessed on their computer screens in the wee hours of the morning and what was happening backstage. Hence “Shut Up And Play The Hits”, a documentary directed by Dylan Southern and Will Lovelace, in which they combine the musical moments of that memorable evening with the whys and hows of James Murphy's decision to dissolve one of the best bands of the decade at the peak of its career.

When you can't nor won't control the phenomenon, when your hair turns grey in the few months you're on tour for no particular reason, and when you're bothered more than is acceptable by the fact you're becoming yet another boring rock star roaming the planet with no direction, fear starts to kick in. James Murphy was tormented by that fear, and in the meta-musical conversations he has with journalist Chuck Klosterman, he explains most of the reasons for his decision. He says the project started as a beautiful accident, something like a cover band that only wanted to do one album and then never be heard from again. However, things turned out quite differently: calls started coming in requesting the band to make their live debut in front of a tiny audience in London, all because of the explosion that was the ironic hipster parody of “Losing My Edge”. It happened to Murphy, remember, when he was already thirty-something years old; quite late.

Murphy remembers when he, only sixteen years old, was as pretentious as anyone, reading Thomas Pynchon's “Gravity's Rainbow”. Ever since he was little, he wanted to be cool. And he managed to become just that. The problem lies in the fact that it happened too late, and that he always considered himself to be a very average artist who didn't want to hide behind a pair of sunglasses like Lou Reed, or declare himself to be some kind of messiah like David Bowie. Success and time have changed Murphy, and they've taken their toll on him. He was exhausted. Today, growing coffee and taking care of his beloved French bulldog Petunia is all he cares about.

And what about the rest? Surely Nancy Whang and Pat Mahoney have something to say about their boss' decision? That's the only flaw of this film: it focuses on Murphy alone, and completely forgets about the other band members. Their role is only reflected in the images taken on stage during the concert, which culminated in a rendition of “New York, I Love You But You’re Bringing Me Down” that sees the human and adorable James breaking down. If you don't feel the temptation to go and give the man a hug, you're not human. So we'll keep mourning for now. Especially because we couldn't experience the historical night first-hand.

The documentary is out now on DVD and Blu-Ray via Oscilloscope Laboratoires.

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