How do you get 14,000 people to cram into Madison Square Garden if you are not a rock star? Frontman of the punkfunk band LCD Soundsystem James Murphy cannot really answer this question no matter how much he tries during the course of their upcoming documentary Shut Up and Play the Hits. Receiving its Irish premiere on 04 September with a live satellite link up interview with James Murphy himself, the film documents the (publicly) unforeseen breakup of the band and their final sell-out concert.
As the lead singer and main musician of the band, Murphy is unquestionably both the glue and most of the other working parts of LCD Soundsystem. For many of his fans he and his band are unfathomably cool, and yet this is the antithesis of what Murphy wants, which he has expressed from their first hit single Losing My Edge in 2002 onwards. The single both laments the process of ageing and becoming less relevant, while also satirizing the seriousness musicians possess when it comes to image. Like Murphy himself, it is all too self-aware of the ubiquitous craving to be cool even in the knowledge of its depthlessness. When it comes to shrugging off the title however, people like Murphy only wade deeper into the waters of hipsterdom by bringing out reactionary singles like ‘Yeah’ which tries to steer clear of indulgently convoluted lyrics by repeating the word ‘yeah’. Come on now, whether you think it’s cool or not, that’s pretty avant-garde. As Murphy concedes, once you make good music that doesn’t fall in the mainstream range, you are bound to be viewed with a level of reverence. Directors Will Lovelace and Dylan Southern capture not only the last ever (presumably anyway) LCD Soundsystem concert but also make a semi-biography of Murphy, with the help of cinematographer Reed Morano and interviewer Chuck Klosterman.
The film opens with a sequence of post-show shots; a slightly grimy and tired Murphy shuffling into the office to have a coffee and wipe his brow. It then proceeds to rewind to the concert itself, footage of which is interspersed with interview clips of Murphy and eventually more post-show footage. As you would hope a good musical documentary to do, Shut Up and Play the Hits will entertain pre-existent fans, archive the band’s history and create some new fans. Murphy proves endearingly normal and authentic in his beliefs, and the show itself is explosively atmospheric. He doesn’t try too hard to create an image, but relies on making enjoyable music that is formulated from the innate dissident within him. He may not want to be cool, but he is. The only sizeable hole in the film is the lack of involvement from other band members in the interview clips, as surely they would have something to add about their band. Even so, it never comes across as purely a one man show as the concert footage illustrates. The playful rapport between them on and offstage conveys they are a family of sorts.
They play for three hours with guest performers such as Arcade Fire, previous tour mates, singing the self-directed diatribe of lyrics that is North American Scum, and a performance with Reggie Watts. It’s an artsy extravaganza of varied collaborations, disco balls, balloons and a theatrical performance from the costumed choir. Shots panning around the twinkling-thanks to the disco ball- audience and long shot angles of Murphy are visually stunning. Only momentarily is the audience drawn away from this when the camera keeps returning to one hysterical fan crying, even making it the last shot of the film disappointingly. Already designated as this generation’s The Last Waltz, you will leave the cinema ruminating over Murphy’s question of whether having faith in your band is enough to keep going, or should you stop in your prime to stave off a descent. Watch the trailer now on MEG.ie.