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SXSW ’12 Review: ‘Shut Up And Play The Hits’ Is LCD Soundsystem’s ‘The Last Waltz’

SXSW '12 Review: 'Shut Up And Play The Hits' Is LCD Soundsystem’s 'The Last Waltz'

The following is a reprint of our review from the Sundance Film Festival.

Less of a documentary and more of a document, “Shut Up And Play The Hits” captures the week before, the day after and the very occasion of LCD Soundsystem’s Madison Square Garden farewell concert on April 2, 2011.

For the unaware, LCD Soundsystem was a Grammy-nominated electro-dance-rock outfit headed up by James Murphy, a frontman who opted to end their relatively successful ten-year run with said MSG blowout. Those looking for a full-bore origin story on the band won’t find it here – no scrappy rise to fame, no tragic overdoses, and the fellow band members hardly even speak – yet it is clearly a conscious effort by directors Will Lovelace and Dylan Southern (Blur doc “No Distance Left To Run“) to emphasize the ephemeral nature of the event. ‘Shut Up’ could be about anyone, any band, any artist coming to terms with their success and finding themselves on the verge of willful retirement – a miraculous sort of agony if ever there was one.

It’s a burden which Murphy bears dryly. He’s relatively reticent for a rock star, droll when not outright distant, unbothered as he walks his French bulldog down the street (well, unless someone wants to say hi to the dog). In an interview with Chuck Klosterman woven throughout the film, he explains how he found success late in life compared to most, and while grateful for it, the work has literally given him more patches of gray hair, an indication sufficient enough for him to pursue a proper life before rocking too much farther into his 40s. He commands a crowd, though, with a critical combination of boundless energy and vital wistfulness, and Lovelace and Southern capture the fans from directly above as a teeming mass of movement and bliss. A similar God’s eye view is employed to skillfully juxtapose Murphy walking his dog down the street with him playing the concert of a lifetime; in fact, the contrast of loud-quiet-loud moments is used often and effectively (sometimes frustratingly, depending on the song) by the filmmakers to reinforce the calm before and after the storm and the thrilling vibrancy of the show itself.

The film opens with an unattributed quote: “If it’s a funeral, let’s have the best funeral ever.” Soundsystem certainly aimed high over the course of nearly four hours that night, having been joined on stage for “All My Friends” and other songs by the likes of Reggie Watts and Arcade Fire (lead singer Win Butler shouts out the film’s rather brilliant title). A massive mirrorball descends from the ceiling and shines a million brilliant points of light across a tireless crowd, and balloons upon balloon drop as Murphy cries out the final notes of the impossibly fitting final song, “New York, I Love You, But You’re Bringing Me Down.” It’s ecstasy over eulogy, and a palpable sensation at that. And then, the next day comes, Murphy finds the DFA offices empty and goes about cleaning the espresso machine himself as if nothing’s the matter, as if the night before wasn’t a tremendous culmination of a career.

If Lovelace and Southern nailed anything, it’s this alchemy of fleeting bliss, in which thousands of people were brought together for a moment both temporary and transcendent not by fate, but an alignment of talent, adoration and sincere yearning on both ends of the experience. More like any great concert than any great concert flick (that’s due separately), it’s evidence of an era barely bygone, but gone all the same. We’re often treated to a fan-level view of the gear on stage – the “we were THIS close!” perspective – before being shown the gear stowed away in storage, unlikely to be played again for any audience, endlessly affectionate or otherwise. When Murphy goes to check out all of their equipment before it’s stowed away with the same indifference granted to the Lost Ark, his faraway sniffles are a rare reveal of emotion in the face of a closing chapter in his life.

Murphy’s dilemma about going out on top should translate even to newcomers, though they may not get the full impact of the band’s appeal and how difficult a decision this must have been for him, as it would be for anyone in that improbable position. However, for fans of the late LCD Soundsystem, this is something of a great release. [A-]

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