Shut Up and Play the Hits: Review

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LCD Soundsystem documents monumental final performance

Editor’s Note: The Roxy Theatre will be screening Shut Up and Play the Hits during Saskatoon Park(ing) Day on Friday, September 21st.

The first LCD Soundsystem album is one of the best albums of the last ten years, an immeasurably influential record that was at once the coolest thing you’d ever heard, while also totally self-conscious and unabashedly calculated in its themes.  It was part dance music, part punk, part rock, part everything — the sum of its influences without wearing any of them on its sleeve.

Shut Up and Play the HitsOn April 2nd, 2011, LCD Soundsystem played its final show at Madison Square Garden.  Shut Up and Play the Hits documents the end-of-an-era performance with some background on frontman James Murphy’s choice to disband the group.

The movie intercuts choice moments from the concert itself, with the backstage goings on, and Murphy strolling around New York the day after the concert, putting some last affairs in order on the first day of his so-called retirement.  I thought it was a fairly unique take on things, letting us see a somewhat premeditated, but more personal side of Murphy.

In a move that makes it more than a Last Waltz-style concert film, music and pop culture writer Chuck Klosterman makes an extended appearance to interview Murphy.  He asks Murphy some really good questions about everything from why Murphy is calling it quits to themes that have run their course through LCD’s music.  I don’t want to go into spoilers, but some of the most interesting parts of the movie are found in these conversations, especially the scene where they discuss LCD’s first single, Losing My Edge, a self-deprecating spoof of the intellectual pursuits of music nerds.

Klosterman and James talk about a particular phenomenon — that the Internet has made artificial experts out of a younger generation.  Now they can Google ‘best of’ lists or quickly download compilations, made up of tracks from full albums that people used to have to spend time seeking out before the information age put it all at our fingertips.  In Losing My Edge, Murphy hands the pop culture conch over to a younger generation, because he can’t keep up with the speed of their Google searches, but at the same time, he laments their name checking of important works that come without an understanding of the full picture.

Someone from my generation probably responds to this idea because we spent our teen years and beyond wading through music, good and bad, to find the gems, or finding VHS copies of movies, both obscure and widely celebrated, to fulfill the imaginary shelves in our heads.  But has the information age made all our hard work irrelevant?  (In my case, watching all those music and obsessing over music was really just a sad justification for being a shifty lay about with no direction anyway).   Whether Klosterman and Murphy are valid in their assertions, or whether generations who came to fruition before the information age are just jealous curmudgeons with a different kind of pretention is up to you — but it’s a fascinating conversation.

And of course, the heart of the movie is the concert footage, which is wonderfully shot with a performance and sound that is immaculate.  Crowd shots show sing-a-longs and people crying in the audience, witnessing a profoundly bittersweet moment in music history, one that is as exuberant as it is heartbreaking.

Is it the best concert movie ever?  Of course not.  Does it all feel calculated?  For sure.  But then again, so does LCD Soundsystem, albeit, in the most natural of ways, if that makes any sense.  But Shut Up and Play the Hits is an amazing snapshot of that moment in time with some intelligent discussion of LCD Soundsystem and other assorted themes in music, and in our obsession with pop culture itself.

I’m not sure we’re left with a solid reason for the disbanding of LCD beyond ‘it’s time for something new as Murphy gets older,’ but perhaps there’s nothing more to it than that.  He doesn’t want to be remembered as some rock god — he’s just a regular dude that made a couple of records, played a few shows, and now he can proudly go out on a high note, instead of dying of a drug overdose or waiting until his music truly becomes an irrelevant parody of itself.  Shut Up and Play the Hits is a must-see for not only LCD fans, but music and pop culture nerds in general.

Shut Up and Play the Hits

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4tK7ERRrpzo&w=600]